Explosions and gunfire heard in Khartoum in early hours of Sunday amid competing claims on who controls presidential place
Fighting in the Sudanese capital continued into the early hours of Sunday after a day of deadly battles between paramilitaries and the army that left at least 56 people dead and nearly 600 wounded.
Explosions and gunfire could be heard on the deserted streets of Khartoum, according to witnesses, after the paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Force (RSF) said they were in control of the presidential place, Khartoum airport and other vital facilities.
The army denied the claims and late on Saturday the Sudanese air force launched airstrikes on an RSF base in the city of Omdurman, which adjoins Khartoum.
The doctors’ union said at least 56 people had been killed in the fighting, including two at Khartoum airport and the rest in others parts of Sudan. The BBC reported that three UN workers were among the dead.
About 595 others were wounded in the clashes, it added in a statement early on Sunday.
The long-feared violent crisis between the two main factions of the ruling military regime threatens to destabilise not just Sudan but much of the region, as well as exacerbating a battle for influence that involves major Gulf powers as well as the US, EU and Russia.
The Sudanese armed forces are broadly loyal to Abdulfatah al-Burhan, the current de facto ruler of Sudan, while the RSF – a collection of militia – follow the controversial former warlord Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti.
The violence erupted after weeks of deepening tensions over the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army.
The integration was a key element of talks to finalise a deal that would return the country to civilian rule and end the political-economic crisis sparked by a military coup in 2021.
Exact details of events on Saturday are unclear but reports suggest the army may have attacked a military base for the RSF in southern Khartoum in the morning, triggering firefights elsewhere in the city in subsequent hours. By noon, battles were raging around Khartoum’s international airport in the centre of the capital, where flights were stopped after two Saudi jets were hit.
On Sunday, a US state department spokesperson said secretary Antony Blinken has been engaging with countries with influence in Sudan to the halt the fighting.
“It does appear that there had been significant weaponry involved in some of these attacks,” the official said.
On Saturday night, the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, called for an immediate end to the violence.
Guterres spoke with leaders of Sudan’s army and paramilitary RSF, Egypt’s president and the chair of the African Union Commission, his spokesperson said.
“There’s a lot of war propaganda and misinformation on both sides … but a lot of countries in the region see this in terms of an endgame military with Sudanese armed forces outgunning the RSF,” said Kholood Khair, an analyst in Khartoum. “Hemedti may also have overestimated his popular support. People in Sudan want to see democracy but don’t believe that either of these actors are going to bring it.”
Yassir al-Awad, a father of four daughters and a resident of Khartoum, told the Observer that the city was witnessing a “power struggle between military leaders”.
“The Sudanese people should not take part but sadly we have been dragged into it, as Sudanese people we do not have any interest in this. Whichever one wins, we are the losers at the end,” he said.
The Arab League, after a request by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is scheduled to hold an urgent meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation.
In a joint call, the Saudi and the United Arab Emirates foreign ministers, along with the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, emphasised “the importance of stopping the military escalation”, the Saudi ministry said.
In an interview with UAE-based Sky News Arabia, Hemeti said: “Burhan the criminal must surrender.”
He denied that RSF had started the fight, after Burhan said in an earlier statement that he “was surprised by Rapid Support Forces attacking his home at 9am”.
The army, on its Facebook page, declared Hemeti a “wanted criminal” and the RSF a “rebel militia”, saying there “will be no negotiations or talks until the dissolution” of the group.
The military said it carried out airstrikes and destroyed two RSF bases in Khartoum. It said the airport and other bases remained under its “full control”, and published a photograph of black smoke billowing from what it said was the RSF headquarters.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report