Battles shake Sudan capital as power struggle escalates

·3-min read

Fighting in Sudan's capital has escalated with fierce clashes and air strikes, witnesses say, as delegations of rival military factions continue talks in Saudi Arabia aimed at securing a ceasefire and humanitarian relief.

Residents reported ground battles in several neighbourhoods of Khartoum between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), as well as heavy gunfire in the north of Omdurman and the east of Bahri, two adjacent cities separated from Khartoum by the River Nile.

Since Tuesday, the army has been pounding targets across the three cities as it tries to root out RSF forces that have taken control of large residential areas and strategic sites since early in the conflict that erupted on April 15.

The conflict has created a humanitarian crisis in Africa's third-largest nation by area, displacing more than 700,000 people inside the country and prompting 150,000 to flee to neighbouring states.

It has also sparked unrest in Sudan's western Darfur region.

The UN World Food Programme said on Wednesday up to 2.5 million more Sudanese were expected to fall into hunger in the coming months because of the current conflict, raising the number of people suffering acute food insecurity to 19 million.

Army and RSF delegations have been meeting since the end of last week in talks sponsored by the US and Saudi Arabia in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

Negotiations aim to secure an effective truce and allow access for aid workers and supplies after repeated ceasefire announcements failed to stop the fighting.

A Western diplomat familiar with the talks in Jeddah said there had been no concrete outcome so far but mediators intended to keep going until they could secure a result.

There had been "difficult atmospherics" at the start of the talks, and mediators were trying to keep delegations tightly focused on a ceasefire and humanitarian access rather than wider political issues, the diplomat said.

Since the battles began, the RSF has dug in across Khartoum neighbourhoods, set up checkpoints, occupied state buildings and placed snipers on rooftops.

The army has been using air strikes and heavy artillery to try to dislodge them.

Late on Tuesday, the RSF said the historic presidential palace in central Khartoum, which has symbolic importance and is in a strategic area that the RSF says it controls, had been hit by an air strike and destroyed, a claim the army denied.

Drone footage filmed on Wednesday and verified by Reuters appeared to show the building, known as the Old Republican Palace, intact, although smoke could be seen coming from the southeast edge of the palace compound.

The fighting has left more than 600 people dead and 5000 injured, according to the latest death toll from the World Health Organization, although the real figure is thought to be much higher.

Witnesses have reported seeing bodies strewn in the streets. Most hospitals have been put out of service and a breakdown of law and order has led to widespread looting.

Fuel and food supplies have been running low.

Conflicts are not new to Sudan, a country that sits at a strategic crossroads between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and the volatile Sahel region.

But most unrest in the past occurred in remote areas.

This time intense fighting in Khartoum, one of Africa's biggest cities, has made the conflict far more alarming for Sudanese.

The UN has projected five million additional people will need emergency assistance inside Sudan while 860,000 are expected to flee to neighbouring states.