Sudan's military commanders described tensions between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as "rumours" amid the country's endeavours to finalise its political transition, which follows a three- decade era of ruling by Omar Al-Bashir,
A civilian-military administration has led Sudan since August 2019 under a power-sharing deal that was due to expire next year but was extended after a peace agreement reached in October with several rebel groups.
Both deals stipulated the need for reform to the military, including the integration of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into the regular army.
The RSF largely drew its members from Arab nomads and camel-herding Janjaweed militias whom rights groups accuse of atrocities in Darfur.
Tensions between the RSF and the army have reportedly been simmering in recent weeks but appeared to peak after paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo openly rejected a merger with the armed forces.
"Talk of RSF integration into the army could break up the country," warned Daglo, commonly known as Hemeti, in a speech that went viral on social media.
"The RSF is established under a law passed by an elected parliament. It's not a battalion... to be integrated into the army," he said.
Military officials have repeatedly denied any rift, but civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has pointed to "deeply worrying" fractures among powerful blocs of Sudan's security system.
He has called for a unified army that includes the RSF, and warned that unresolved splits among political factions at the helm of Sudan's transition could result in chaos and civil war.
"The question now for Sudan is to be or not to be," Hamdok told journalists last week.
Sudan is navigating a post-Bashir transition marked by a wrenching economic crisis and deepening political division.
It has seen a spike in violent crime, protests and popular discontent in recent weeks as the government pushes for tough economic reforms.
Daglo and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the army's commander-in-chief and leader of Sudan's transitional ruling body, have slammed allegations of army-RSF tensions as "rumours" that should be "crushed".
Last month, rebel groups from the Darfur region who signed a landmark 2020 peace deal with Sudan's government called for speeding up reforms to the security sector, including unifying the army.
The peace deal could collapse if reforms were not implemented, they warned.
War broke out in Darfur in 2003 when African minority rebels complaining of discrimination took up arms against Bashir's Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.
The years-long conflict killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million, according to the UN.
Military expert Amin Ismail said the RSF's integration into the army "is a must at this point".
"The RSF was formed for a specific purpose under Bashir, but now that his regime is gone, it should be part of one unified army."
Negotiations with a holdout rebel faction were adjourned this month. The group's chief negotiator told AFP that one of the unresolved issues was the integration of armed groups into the army.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online.