May 4, 2023
IntelBrief: Warring Sides Continue to Trade Blows in Sudan Despite Latest Ceasefire
Another ceasefire has been announced by warring sides in Sudan, but the fighting continues apace, with explosions and gunfire rocking the capital Khartoum. Given the failure of several previous ceasefires, there is little confidence that the latest, supposed to take effect today for seven days, will hold. With many foreigners now evacuated or in the process of fleeing, it is possible Sudanese army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burshan and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, are preparing for a no-holds-barred fight for control of the country. The Sudanese military launched airstrikes earlier this week in Khartoum, targeting paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) positions throughout the city, where fighters are camouflaged in urban terrain, blending in with residential areas and civilian populations. RSF fighters returned fire using anti-aircraft weaponry, while armed groups roamed the capital reportedly looting buildings, including the Indian embassy and the Saudi cultural mission. Dead bodies remain scattered around the streets of Khartoum, adding to the dystopian landscape that has overtaken Africa’s third-largest country. Still, RSF fighters appear dug into their positions, suggesting that the conflict is not likely to ebb any time soon.
South Sudan is attempting to serve as a mediator to bring the fighting to a halt, at least for long enough to address the dire humanitarian situation in Sudan and spilling into the region, which is growing worse by the day. Salka Kiir Mayardit, South Sudan’s president, is attempting to bring the competing factions to the negotiating table in an effort to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. As of this week, more than 550 people have been killed in the fighting and nearly an additional 5,000 have been injured. More than 100,000 people have been forced to flee to surrounding countries in order to escape the violence, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). According to the UNHCR, the most significant cross-border movements by Sudanese refugees so far have been to Chad and Egypt, with many South Sudanese returning to South Sudan. In Chad, some refugees are still without shelter, staying out in the open or under trees, compounding the dire humanitarian situation. Another 330,000 are estimated to be internally displaced throughout the country. The UNHCR believes as many as 800,000 people could ultimately be forced to flee if the conflict continues to drag on, as many expect. Electricity and water are scarce, and the Sudan Doctors’ Trade Union warned that the entire healthcare system could be on the verge of collapsing, a catastrophic outcome for the most vulnerable Sudanese still trapped in the middle of cascading violence. The union has also described “an environmental catastrophe” as the number of corpses piled in the street mounts. The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the majority of hospitals in Khartoum have been closed since the fighting began three weeks ago. Various types of medicine are in extremely short supply. The WHO is warning that “many will die” due to a lack of essential services and disease outbreaks, with refugees and displaced persons, particularly at risk. Food insecurity, which was an issue plaguing parts of Sudan before the recent fighting erupted, has only been exacerbated, putting millions at risk of potential starvation.
Both the Sudanese Army and RSF continue to point fingers at each other in an attempt to lay blame for the deteriorating humanitarian situation. Many countries are scrambling to evacuate any remaining foreign nationals through Port Sudan, with around 1,000 Americans assisted by the U.S. State Department so far. Thousands have sought to escape Sudan by traveling across the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia, which now finds itself playing a major role in the evacuation. Images from Port Sudan show a human wave descending on the disembarkation port, with people huddled in large groups awaiting the possibility of securing a spot on the ships making the journey across the Red Sea. Those who could not flee via Port Sudan have decamped by foot to Chad, Egypt, and South Sudan.
There is also growing concern that the conflict, which has already spilled over into Sudan’s Darfur region, could ignite prolonged fighting in that area. The prospect dredges up horrific memories of atrocities committed there by the Janjaweed militia against non-Arab Africans, the precursor to the RSF and also directed by Hemedti, the current RSF commander. During two decades of fighting, which included allegations of genocide, more than 300,000 people were killed and another 2.7 million displaced, according to the United Nations. The International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Sudan’s former leader, Omar al-Bashir, on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity back in 2009. Civilians are acquiring arms and forming local militias in response to pillaging raids by the RSF. Tribal conflict has the potential to spiral out of control in Darfur, with civilians paying the highest price. Some of the worst violence has occurred in western Darfur in the city of Geneina, where the UN and aid groups have reported that more than 100 civilians were killed in the recent fighting.