A fierce power struggle between Sudan’s military and the notorious paramilitary force, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), has plunged the capital city of Khartoum into chaos (15 April, 2023). At least three civilians have been confirmed dead, while residents are forced to dodge gunfire as rival forces engage in intense battles over strategic locations, including the presidential palace, state TV, and army headquarters. The conflict has its roots in disagreements over a proposed transition to civilian rule.
The fighting is between army units loyal to the de facto leader, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the RSF, led by Sudan’s deputy leader, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. As of Sunday 15 April, both sides claim to control key sites, such as the airport. In addition to the clashes in Khartoum, battles have also been reported in the Darfur region and other parts of the country. Gen Dagalo has declared that his forces will continue fighting until all army bases are captured.
The situation has prompted flight suspensions by both Saudia and EgyptAir, while neighboring Chad has closed its border with Sudan. The UK, the US, and the EU have called for an immediate end to the fighting.
Sudan has been under military rule since a coup in October 2021. Gen Burhan serves as the president of the Sovereign Council, while Hemedti, also known as Dagalo, is its vice-president. The proposed move to a civilian-led government has been stymied by disputes over the timetable to integrate the RSF into the national army. The RSF has demanded a 10-year delay, but the army insists on a two-year timeframe.
The ongoing fighting has disrupted daily life in Khartoum, with bridges and roads closed, schools in lockdown, and many people caught in transit. Eyewitnesses have reported armored vehicles in the streets, and video footage has shown a civilian plane ablaze at Khartoum airport. Saudi airline Saudia has stated that one of its Airbuses came under fire.
The violence follows days of mounting tension as members of the RSF were redeployed around the country in a move that the army perceived as a threat. Despite initial hopes that talks could resolve the situation, negotiations never materialized. It remains unclear who fired the first shot on Saturday morning, but there are growing concerns that the situation will deteriorate further.
The RSF was formed in 2013 and has its origins in the notorious Janjaweed militia, which brutally fought off rebels in Darfur. Since then, Gen Dagalo has built a powerful force that has intervened in conflicts in Yemen and Libya, and controls some of Sudan’s gold mines. The RSF has also been accused of human rights abuses, including the massacre of more than 120 protesters in June 2019. The existence of such a strong force outside the army is seen as a source of instability in the country.
This fighting is the latest episode in bouts of tension that followed the ousting of long-serving President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. There were massive street protests calling for an end to his near-three decade rule, and the army mounted a coup to remove him. However, civilians continued to demand a role in the plan to move towards democratic rule. A joint military-civilian government was established but was overthrown in another coup in October 2021. Since then, the rivalry between Gen Burhan and Gen Dagalo has intensified.
A framework deal to put power back in the hands of civilians was agreed upon in December, but talks to finalise the details have failed. If the fighting continues, it could further fragment the country and exacerbate political turbulence. Diplomats, who have played a crucial role in trying to encourage a return to civilian rule, will be desperate to find a way to get the two generals to engage in dialogue.
In the meantime, ordinary Sudanese citizens will have to endure yet another period of uncertainty and unrest. The escalating violence has a significant impact on daily life, with families sheltering in place, essential services disrupted, and fear spreading throughout the nation.
The international community has been closely monitoring the situation in Sudan. Western powers and regional leaders had previously urged the two sides to de-escalate tensions and return to talks aimed at restoring civilian rule. The United Nations and various human rights organizations have also expressed their concerns regarding the potential for increased violence and its impact on the civilian population.
Moreover, the ongoing crisis in Sudan may have far-reaching implications for the stability of the entire region. Neighboring countries may face an influx of refugees, and the fragile peace in South Sudan could be jeopardized if the conflict in Sudan continues to escalate. Furthermore, the power vacuum created by the infighting between the military and the RSF might encourage extremist groups to exploit the situation, potentially exacerbating regional security concerns.
Sudan’s current crisis is a crucial test for the international community’s ability to support peace and stability in the region. The ongoing violence highlights the urgent need for dialogue and compromise between the rival factions, as well as a clear commitment from regional and international partners to support the restoration of civilian rule and the implementation of democratic reforms.
In conclusion, the power struggle between Sudan’s military and the RSF has plunged the nation into chaos, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence. The situation underlines the importance of finding a diplomatic solution to the conflict and restoring civilian rule. As the fighting continues, the international community must work together to facilitate dialogue between the two generals and help Sudan navigate this turbulent period toward a more stable and democratic future.
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