People look for water during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan April 20, 2023. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
By Khalid Abdelaziz and Nafisa Eltahir
KHARTOUM (Reuters) -The Sudan capital Khartoum was rocked by bombing and artillery shelling on Friday, despite reports that warring forces had welcomed a proposal for a truce during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
“There are still clashes between army forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), leaving buildings, facilities and public property destroyed,” said a doctors’ committee.
A coalition of civil groups said on social media that it had submitted a proposal for a three-day truce to rival factions that have been locked in a week-long battle for control, and they responded favourably.
“We welcome the positive position of the leadership of the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces,” the group said, adding that it would continue to work on details.
Neither force publicly said it had agreed to a ceasefire.
The RSF issued a statement that made no mention of a possible truce and condemned the military for what it said was fresh assaults.
“At this moment, when citizens are preparing to receive the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the neighborhoods of Khartoum are waking up to the bombings of aircrafts and heavy artillery in a sweeping attack that is directly targeting residential neighborhoods,” the RSF said early on Friday.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday appealed for a ceasefire to allow civilians to reach safety.
Thousands of civilians streamed out of the capital Khartoum as gunfire and explosions sounded on Thursday. Large numbers also crossed into Chad to flee fighting in the western region of Darfur.
At least 350 people have been killed so far in the violent power struggle which broke out last weekend between two previously allied leaders of Sudan’s ruling military junta, Sudan’s army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
A doctors’ group separately said at least 26 people were killed and 33 were injured in El-Obeid, a city west of Khartoum, on Thursday, the eve of Eid al-Fitr which ends the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Witnesses there described clashes between the army and RSF troops and widespread looting.
Guterres, speaking to reporters after meeting virtually with the heads of the African Union, the Arab League and other organizations on Thursday, said: “There was a strong consensus on condemning ongoing fighting in Sudan and calling for cessation of hostilities as an immediate priority”.
Urging a three-day ceasefire, he said civilians trapped in conflict zones should be allowed to escape and to seek medical treatment, food and other supplies. The United States endorsed the ceasefire proposal.
Burhan told Al Jazeera he would support a truce on condition it allowed citizens to move freely – something he said the RSF had so far prevented. He also said he currently saw no partner for negotiations, and “no other option but the military solution”.
His rival Dagalo told Al Jazeera he was ready to implement a three-day truce. Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, has said several times he supports short ceasefires but each has quickly collapsed.
“We are talking about a humanitarian truce, we are talking about safe passages … we are not talking about sitting down with a criminal,” Dagalo said, referring to Burhan.
Burhan accused Dagalo, until last week his deputy on the council that has ruled since a coup two years ago, of “a power grab”.
An alliance between the two men had mostly held since the overthrow four years ago of long-time strongman Omar al-Bashir, whose rule saw Sudan become an international pariah that was on the U.S. terrorism list.
The latest violence was triggered by disagreement over an internationally backed plan to form a new civilian government. Both sides accuse the other of thwarting the transition.
FIGHTING AND FLEEING
Since hostilities erupted, much of the fighting has focused on the Khartoum compound housing the army headquarters and Burhan’s residence. The embassy district and airport have also been the scene of clashes.
In Khartoum and sister cities Omdurman and Bahri, residents gathered on Thursday at bus terminals with suitcases.
“There’s no food. Supermarkets are empty. The situation isn’t safe, honestly, so people are leaving,” said a resident who gave only his first name, Abdelmalek.
Many other local people remain trapped, along with thousands of foreigners in a city that has become a war zone.
Burnt-out vehicles littered the streets and buildings had gaping holes from shells. Hospitals, where bodies lie unburied, were closed.
Around 10,000 to 20,000 people escaping the fighting have taken refuge in villages along the border inside Chad, U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) said.
Even before the conflict, around a quarter of Sudan’s population was facing acute hunger, but the WFP halted one of its largest global operations in the country on Saturday after three workers were killed.
Sudan borders seven countries and sits strategically between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Africa’s volatile Sahel region, so the hostilities risk fanning regional tensions.