Smoke is seen rise from buildings during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan. April 22, 2023. REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – In the Sudanese capital, charred paramilitary pick-up trucks hit by air strikes litter main streets and weary residents queue for bread in neighbourhoods largely emptied of civilian life.
On the outskirts, people lug suitcases long distances by foot towards bus stops as they try to flee the city.
A Reuters reporter returning to his family home on Sunday got a glimpse of a city enveloped by war over the past eight days – a journey that would normally take little more than 30 minutes but took three hours amid the chaos of the conflict.
The clashes pit Sudan’s army against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). They jointly staged a coup in 2021 but came to blows over plans for an internationally-backed transition to civilian rule.
It is the first time fighting on this scale has affected the capital, which is composed of Khartoum and the adjoining cities of Bahri and Omdurman and has a total population of more than 10 million at a confluence of the Nile.
Air strikes, shelling and gun battles have ripped across the city day and night, unabated through the final days of Ramadan when Muslims fast from dawn till dusk, and through the three-day holiday of Eid el-Fitr which ends on Sunday, despite repeated promises of ceasefires.
The RSF has embedded itself in several neighbourhoods, taking over buildings, while the army has used air strikes and heavy artillery to try to force its rivals back, according to residents and witnesses contacted by Reuters. The army has said it is trying to clear “hotbeds of rebel groups” from the capital.
The violence has cut water and power to much of the city, and damaged and closed hospitals. Many civilians are trapped in their homes or stranded, risking theft and looting if they venture out.
The reporter crossed the Blue Nile to Bahri, scene of heavy clashes over the past two days, before circling west and crossing the river to Omdurman in order to reach his family home from Khartoum, where he had been staying with relatives.
He navigated through a city transformed by the military power struggle.
He saw heavy deployments of RSF fighters in the areas he drove through in the three sister cities, some manning checkpoints where they demanded identity documents from drivers.
Army troops, who according to residents and witnesses began engaging in heavier ground fighting for the first time on Friday, could be seen at the entrance to Omdurman, where tanks, pickup trucks and soldiers with automatic rifles were deployed.
After more than a week of warfare, the reporter found residential streets largely deserted. In addition, petrol has become hard to obtain, and there were few cars. Supplies of flour and other staples are dwindling, and vegetables are scarce and expensive.
At the main market in Bahri, many buildings were badly damaged and burned by fighting and air strikes.
In some areas further from central Khartoum, buses could be seen preparing to carry people north towards Egypt, part of an exodus that has gathered pace over the past week.
People carrying small bags tried to hitch rides with passing cars or catch minibuses heading out of the city.
Near the Halfiya bridge linking Bahri to Omdurman, a long diplomatic convoy with armed guards and flying British flags could be seen heading west, one of the evacuations of embassy staff and foreign citizens that began on Saturday and gathered pace on Sunday as the fighting abated slightly.