Deadly fighting rocks Sudan as army battles paramilitaries
KHARTOUM - Three civilians died Saturday in battles between Sudanese paramilitaries and the regular army, which said it launched air strikes against them, sparking global calls for calm in a country which has seen decades of unrest.
The paramilitaries said they were in control of the presidential place as well as Khartoum airport, claims denied by the army, as civilian leaders called for an immediate ceasefire to prevent Sudan's "total collapse".
The doctors' union reported the three civilian deaths, including at Khartoum airport and in North Kordofan state. At least nine others were wounded, the medics said.
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 paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (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 and economic crisis sparked by their 2021 coup in one of the world's poorest countries.
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.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was "deeply concerned" and urged both sides to "stop the violence immediately", a call echoed by the United Nations, African and Arab regional blocs, and the European Union.
Russia's foreign ministry said there was "serious concern in Moscow," which called for urgent steps toward a ceasefire.
The army said it carried out air strikes and destroyed two RSF bases in Khartoum.
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.
The RSF said its forces had taken control of Khartoum airport, after witnesses reported seeing truckloads of fighters entering the airport compound, as well as the presidential palace -- where Burhan is officially based -- and other key sites.
The army, however, said the airport and other bases remain under their "full control". It published a photograph of black smoke billowing from what it said was the RSF headquarters.
Saudi Arabia's flag carrier Saudia said it had suspended all flights to and from Sudan until further notice after one of its planes, with passengers and crew aboard waiting for departure, was "exposed to gunfire damage".
RSF chief Daglo vowed no letup.
"We will not stop fighting until we capture all the army bases and the honourable members of the armed forces join us," he told Al Jazeera.
Haggling between Daglo and Burhan has twice forced postponement of 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 have reported clashes in the Darfur region and elsewhere.
The BBC said the army had stopped one of its reporters, struck him in the head, and then driven him to a headquarters in Omdurman.
The two sides traded blame for starting the fighting.
The military's civilian interlocutors called on both sides "to immediately cease hostilities and spare the country slipping into the abyss of total collapse."
A ceasefire call also came from former prime minister Abdalla Hamdok who was ousted in the coup, later reinstated, and then resigned.
Their plea was echoed by US ambassador John Godfrey, who tweeted that he "woke up to the deeply disturbing sounds of gunfire and fighting" and was "currently sheltering in place with the embassy team, as Sudanese throughout Khartoum and elsewhere are doing".
The head of the UN mission in Sudan, Volker Perthes, called for an "immediate" ceasefire, and the UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said "more violence will only make things worse" for the one-third of Sudanese who need humanitarian aid.
Western governments had warned about the dangers of all-out fighting between the rival security forces since the army on Thursday said the country was at a "dangerous... turning point" after paramilitaries deployed more fighters in major cities.
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, a career soldier from northern Sudan who rose through the ranks under Bashir's three-decade rule, maintained the coup was necessary to bring more groups into the political process. - AFP