Sudan conflict shows no sign of easing, U.N. warns of breaking point

A view of streets as clashes continue between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) despite the agreement on cease fire in Khartoum, Sudan on April 30, 2023.

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Fighting could be heard in Khartoum early on Monday despite a supposed ceasefire extension and the United Nations warned of a humanitarian “breaking point” as clashes between rival military forces entered a third week.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands wounded since long-simmering tension between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces erupted into conflict on April 15.

Both sides agreed on Sunday to extend a much-violated humanitarian ceasefire that had been due to expire at midnight for a further 72 hours, in a move the RSF said was “in response to international, regional and local calls.”

The army said it hoped what it called the “rebels” would abide by the deal but it believed they had intended to keep up attacks. On Monday morning, the sound of artillery, airstrikes and anti-aircraft fire was audible in the capital Khartoum.

Many fear for their lives as Sudan’s two most powerful men prosecute war in a country that has faced civil wars, coups and economic hardship for decades.

“I have to keep working, especially in these circumstances. Everything is more expensive,” said Abdelbagi, a barber in the capital Khartoum. “I show up to work for two or three hours then I close up because it’s not safe.”

Violence has paralyzed the city and risks reawakening war in the vast Western region of Darfur scarred by a two-decade old conflict, despite numerous ceasefire pledges.

Together, the army and RSF toppled a civilian government in an October 2021 coup but their power struggle has derailed an internationally-backed transition to democracy and is threatening to destabilize a volatile region.

At least 528 people have been killed and 4,599 wounded, the health ministry said. The United Nations has reported a similar number of dead but believes the real toll is much higher.

Unprecedented speed

The fighting has pitched Sudan towards a civil war and sent tens of thousands of people fleeing into neighboring countries.

Sudanese refugees from the Tandelti area who crossed into Chad, in Koufroun, near Echbara, sit near temporary shelters on April 30, 2023 for an aid distribution.

Gueipeur Denis Sassou | Afp | Getty Images

It has deepened the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, where a third of the people already depended on some form of assistance, said Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the United Nations.

“The scale and speed of what is unfolding in Sudan is unprecedented. We are extremely concerned by the immediate as well as long-term impact on all people in Sudan and the broader region,” he said.

Victoria, one of the tea sellers that used to dot Khartoum’s streets before the fighting began, said her children are struggling to understand what is happening.

“So I risk my life to try to work and if God helps me I’ll get them some food and if he doesn’t I’ll keep trying. But just sitting useless doesn’t help and being scared doesn’t help,” she said.

The United Nations’ World Food Programme said on Monday it will immediately lift the suspension of its operations in Sudan that was put in place after the deaths of its team members.

“WFP is rapidly resuming our programs to provide the life-saving assistance that many so desperately need right now,” WFP executive director Cindy McCain wrote on Twitter.

The WFP said on April 16 it had temporarily halted all operations in Sudan after three of its employees were killed in clashes between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary RSF a day earlier.

Burhan and Hemedti are digging in for what could be a protracted battle.

Army leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has said he would never sit down with RSF chief General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, who in turn said he would talk only after the army ceased hostilities.

In Khartoum, the army has been battling RSF forces entrenched in residential areas. Fighting has so far seen the more agile RSF forces fan out across the city as the better equipped army tries to target them largely by using air strikes from drones and fighter jets.

Foreign governments have scrambled to evacuate their nationals amid warnings the country could disintegrate.

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