KHARTOUM, Sudan — Fighting in the Sudanese capital raged into Sunday after a day of deadly battles between paramilitaries and the regular army that left at least 56 people dead and hundreds more wounded.
Explosions and gunfire rang out on the deserted streets of Khartoum, according to witnesses, after the paramilitaries said they were in control of the presidential place, Khartoum airport and other vital facilities.
The army denied the claims, and in a statement late Saturday, the Sudanese air force urged people to stay indoors as it continued air strikes against bases of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Fighter jets were earlier seen flying overhead.
Windows rattled and apartment buildings shook in many parts of Khartoum during the clashes, according to AFP correspondents, with explosions heard early Sunday.
“The total number of deaths among civilians reached 56,” said the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, an independent pro-democracy group of medics, adding there were “tens of deaths” among security forces, but they were not included in the toll given early Sunday.
The committee said it had counted around 600 wounded, including some among security forces, but that many casualties could not be transferred to hospitals due to difficulties in moving during the clashes.
Several aircraft damaged including a Saudia A330 at Khartoum Airport as Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces takes control of the airport after days of tension in the country. pic.twitter.com/sVG3nT8VPp
— Breaking Aviation News & Videos (@aviationbrk) April 15, 2023
Saudi Arabia’s flag carrier Saudia said one of its planes, with passengers and crew aboard waiting for departure, was “exposed to gunfire damage.”
Bakry, 24, who works in marketing, said Khartoum residents had “never seen anything like” this unrest, which left dark smoke hanging over the capital.
“People were terrified and running back home. The streets emptied very quickly,” said Bakry, who gave only a first name.
Violence erupted after weeks of deepening tensions between military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, over the planned integration of Daglo’s RSF into the regular army.
— Mohamed Mustafa – محمد مصطفى جامع (@Moh_Gamea) April 16, 2023
The integration was a key element of talks to finalize a deal that would return the country to civilian rule and end the political-economic crisis sparked by the military’s 2021 coup.
Created in 2013, the RSF emerged from the Janjaweed militia that then-president Omar al-Bashir unleashed against non-Arab ethnic minorities in the western Darfur region a decade earlier, drawing accusations of war crimes.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities” and discussed ways to de-escalate with the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki.
He also spoke with Burhan and Daglo, urging them “to return to dialogue.”
#SUDAN: Coup D'etat in Progress
The paramilitary of General Mohamed Hamdane Daglo (Hemeti) N°2 of the junta assure that they have taken control of the International Airport, Radio and the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, shaken since morning by gunfire and explosions.
Images of… pic.twitter.com/gbE1osewoN
— Zagazola (@ZagazOlaMakama) April 15, 2023
The Arab League, following a request by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, was scheduled to hold an urgent meeting Sunday to discuss the situation in Sudan.
In a joint call, the Saudi and United Arab Emirates foreign ministers, along with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, emphasized “the importance of stopping the military escalation,” the Saudi ministry said.
Similar appeals came from the African and Arab regional blocs, the European Union, France, Italy, Russia and Iran.
But in an interview with UAE-based Sky News Arabia, Daglo, who is also known as Hemeti, said: “Burhan the criminal must surrender.”
He denied that RSF had started the fight, after Burhan in an earlier statement said he “was surprised by Rapid Support Forces attacking his home at 9:00 a.m.”
The army, on its Facebook page, declared Daglo 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 air strikes and destroyed two RSF bases in Khartoum. It said the airport and other bases remain under its “full control,” and published a photograph of black smoke billowing from what it said was the RSF headquarters.
The latest deaths, during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, came after more than 120 civilians had already been killed in a crackdown on regular pro-democracy demonstrations since the coup.
RSF published a video on Twitter showing uniformed men which it claimed were “Egyptian soldiers who surrendered with Sudanese military” in Meroe, northern Sudan.
Egypt’s army confirmed “the presence of Egyptian forces” in Sudan for exercises, and said it was following the situation.
Daglo told Sky News Arabia the Egyptians would not be harmed and would be returned home.
Haggling between Daglo and Burhan has twice delayed the signing of an agreement with civilian factions setting out a roadmap for restoring the democratic transition disrupted by the 2021 coup.
On Saturday, witnesses reported clashes around the state media building in Khartoum’s sister city Omdurman. Others described clashes in the Darfur region and elsewhere.
Chad, which borders Darfur, said it was closing its frontier, “faced with this troubling situation.”
Waking up to gunfire
The military’s civilian interlocutors and ex-prime minister Abdalla Hamdok appealed for a ceasefire, a plea echoed by US Ambassador John Godfrey who tweeted that he “woke up to the deeply disturbing sounds of gunfire and fighting.”
Daglo has said the coup was a mistake that failed to bring about change and reinvigorated remnants of Bashir’s regime ousted by the army in 2019 following mass protests.
Burhan, who rose through the ranks under Bashir’s three-decade rule, maintained the coup was necessary to bring more groups into the political process.
Sudan and Israel agreed to normalize ties in January 2021, although progress has been slow amid government instability and anti-Israel sentiment among the public.
It was the military — not the civilian — leadership in Sudan that played a more active role in advancing normalization with Israel.
In January 2022, an Israeli delegation landed in Khartoum and reportedly met with both Burhan, and the second-in-command of the RSF, both of whom took part in the coup.
Before that, in November 2021, Israeli officials reportedly met with Dagalo, the head of the RSF.
While much of the Western world condemned the coup, Israel has remained notably silent.