Sudan’s violent power struggle puts diplomatic missions in jeopardy as death toll rises

Sudan’s violent power struggle puts diplomatic missions in jeopardy as death toll rises

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World powers have been quick to condemn the ongoing violence between the Sudanese army and the powerful Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia which has resulted in the death of at least 200 people and has seen diplomatic missions in the country come under attack.

On Tuesday, G7 foreign ministers meeting in Japan urged warring forces in Sudan to “end hostilities immediately” and return to negotiations, after days of fighting that has killed over 200 people and wounded thousands.

They warned the fighting “threatens the security and safety of Sudanese civilians and undermines efforts to restore Sudan’s democratic transition”.

A recent power struggle in the country exploded into violence Saturday between the forces of two generals who seized power in a 2021 coup: Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

This comes as the European Union’s ambassador to Sudan was attacked in his residence in Khartoum on Monday.

The 58-year-old Irish diplomat Aidan O’Hara was reportedly “not seriously hurt” but, according to Irish Foreign Minister Michéal Martin, the assault was “a gross violation of obligations to protect diplomats under the Vienna Convention“.

However, the European Union has said “the EU delegation in Sudan has not been evacuated” and that security measures “are being assessed”.

‘Spectre of Benghazi’

Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had spoken with the two generals and “underscored the urgent need for a ceasefire”.

Blinken also confirmed a US diplomatic convoy had been fired upon in the city of Al-Fashir in North Darfur province on Monday, although those inside were unharmed.

The potential targeting of diplomatic missions in Sudan conjures memories of the infamous 2012 attack on a US compound in the Libyan port city of Benghazi, where the US ambassador and three others were killed by the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia militia.

A diplomatic source close to RFI has said that they would not be “overly worried about a Benghazi-like assault on the American embassy [in Khartoum] as it’s a fortress that has withstood demonstrators trying to overrun it” in the past.

However, “a determined military action would be something else.”

Calls for ceasefire ignored

For its part, the United Nations has also called for an immediate ceasefire and international bodies, including the European Union, have expressed grave concern at the unravelling situation in Sudan.

Earlier on Tuesday, Sudan’s army denied any knowledge of a 24-hour ceasefire that was suggested as RSF leader Dagalo reaffirmed his approval of an armistice.

Analysts say the fighting in the capital is unprecedented and could be prolonged, despite regional and global calls for a ceasefire as diplomats mobilise.

Battles have taken place throughout the country and there are fears of a regional spillover of the conflict that has seen air strikes, artillery and heavy gunfire in densely populated urban areas.

Khartoum residents ‘terrified’

Speaking to RFI, Khartoum resident Dallia Abdelmoniem recounted: “It’s been three days of non-stop artillery, gunshots… fighter jets were used yesterday … it’s beginning to affect our nerves and our well-being.

“We’ve had no electricity since Saturday afternoon, we haven’t been able to go out because it’s not safe enough to go outside. We’re just staying indoors locked, doors locked. We’ve moved into the central area of the house because there’s no windows because the constant artillery and the bombs are shaking the windows and we’re afraid of the broken glass.”

Abdelmoniem underlined her anger at the situation in Sudan, as it’s always civilians who get caught in the crossfire.

“This time, it’s between two men with too many weapons and too much power … they don’t care what happens. I mean, anyone who decides to use fighter jets in congested urban city? They don’t care about us.

Those compelled to venture outside face queues for bread and petrol at outlets that are not shuttered.

Khartoum resident Dallia Abdelmoniem speaks to RFI about living in the crossfire

Medical situation critical

Meanwhile, medics in Sudan had earlier given a death toll of nearly 100 civilians and “dozens” of fighters from both sides, but the number of casualties was thought to be far higher as many wounded are unable to reach hospitals.

The official doctors’ union warned fighting had “heavily damaged” multiple hospitals in Khartoum and other cities, with some completely “out of service”.

The World Health Organization has warned that several Khartoum hospitals “have run out of blood, transfusion equipment, intravenous fluids and other vital supplies”.

In the western region of Darfur, international medical aid organisation Doctors Without Borders reported receiving several dozens of wounded patients at the only hospital in Al Fashir still operating in North Darfur state – the majority are civilians caught in the crossfire – among them children.

Several aid organisations have temporarily suspended operations in the country, where one-third of the population needs assistance.

Appeal for international mediation

Sudan’s influential neighbour Egypt has said it has discussed with Saudi Arabia, South Sudan and Djibouti – all close allies of Sudan – “the need to make every effort to preserve stability and safety”.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on the two sides to “return to the negotiating table

On Twitter, Daglo called on the international community to intervene against Burhan, branding him a “radical Islamist who is bombing civilians from the air”.

“We will continue to pursue Al-Burhan and bring him to justice,” said Daglo, whose RSF and its predecessor the Janjaweed in Darfur have previously been accused of atrocities and war crimes.

Army statements call the RSF “a rebel militia” intent on “engaging near populated areas”.

The fighting broke out after bitter disagreements between Burhan and Daglo over the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army – a key condition for a final deal aimed at ending a crisis since the 2021 coup – which has derailed the transition to democracy.

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