Ceasefire shaky as Sudanese, foreigners flee

AFP , Tuesday 25 Apr 2023

A US-brokered ceasefire between Sudan's warring generals brought some calm to the capital on Tuesday, but witnesses reported fresh air strikes and paramilitaries claimed to have seized a major oil refinery and power plant.

Sudan foreigner evacuation
In this photo provided by the Spanish Defence Ministry citizens of different nationalities, fleeing from Sudan, sit inside a Spanish Air Force aircraft on its way to Madrid on Monday, April 24, 2023. AP


Foreign nations stepped up efforts to evacuate their nationals from the chaos-torn nation, but security fears were compounded when the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of a "huge biological risk" after fighters occupied a Khartoum laboratory holding samples of cholera, measles, polio and other infectious diseases.

With the heaviest combat eased, thousands of foreigners as well as Sudanese continued to flee the capital.

Ten days of heavy fighting until Monday has killed hundreds of people, left bodies rotting in the streets, and some neighbourhoods of greater Khartoum in ruins.

Fighting pits the army and its air support against heavily armed paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Bewildered civilians were seen walking down one street in Khartoum North where almost all buildings were blasted out and smoke rose from scorched ruins, in unverified video posted on social media.

Witnesses in the same area later reported air strikes, and paramilitary forces firing anti-aircraft weapons.

In the capital's twin city Omdurman, witnesses heard gunfire.

Late Tuesday witnesses reported more air strikes in Khartoum North where they said fighter jets struck RSF vehicles heading north.

- 'Children horrified' -

The RSF posted a video in which it claimed to be in control of an oil refinery and the associated Garri power plant more than 70 kilometres (43 miles) north of Khartoum.

Shortly before, the army had warned in a Facebook post of "heavy movement towards the refinery in order to take advantage of the truce by taking control of the refinery".

But with much of the city of five million seeing a relative reduction in fighting, witnesses said, foreign governments have been organising road convoys, aircraft and ships to get their nationals out since the weekend.

More than 6,400 people have fled Sudan in the evacuations including by sea to Saudi Arabia and by aircraft to Jordan and Djibouti.

"The most difficult thing was the sounds of the bombing and the jet fighters while flying above our home. That horrified the children," said Safa Abu Taher, who landed with her family at an Amman-area military airport on an evacuation flight Tuesday night.

Britain, which has thousands of citizens in Sudan, evacuated some of them to Cyprus on its first such flight, with at least two more airlifts to follow overnight.

Germany announced its last evacuation flight would take off Tuesday evening to Jordan.

Witnesses in Wad Banda, West Kordofan state, reported clashes between the army and RSF, including the use of fighter jets.

West Kordofan is adjacent to Sudan's Darfur region which has seen heavy fighting and the looting of aid depots, but the UN cited reports that in North Darfur state a local ceasefire had been in place since late last week.

- US 'deeply engaged' -

As for the US-brokered ceasefire which took effect at midnight (2200 GMT Monday), State Department spokesman Vedant Patel declined to offer a US assessment on the extent to which it was holding.

US diplomats remained "deeply engaged" with all sides in Sudan on the ceasefire, he added.

France welcomed "acceptance" of the ceasefire and called on all parties to fully respect it to allow humanitarian aid and safety of civilians.

A UN report said "shortages of food, water, medicines and fuel are becoming extremely acute, especially in Khartoum and surrounding areas".

Despite the rocketing prices of fuel and bus tickets required to escape, thousands of Sudanese have tried to flee to Egypt, and the UN warned it was bracing for an exodus of up to 270,000 refugees to Sudan's even poorer neighbours Chad and South Sudan.

"Thankfully, we are safe," Omdurman resident Salwa Soliman told AFP at the Egyptian border.

"Neither the military nor the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) intercepted us" during a gruelling 1,000-kilometre (620 miles) journey, she said.

Fighting has killed at least 459 people and wounded more than 4,000 across Africa's third-biggest country, according to UN agencies.

Still, parts seem untouched. Khartoum residents fleeing to Wad Madani, 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the capital, were struck by the sight of normal life: stores open and not a gun in sight.

- History of coups -

The UN warned Tuesday that an estimated 219,000 women in Khartoum are pregnant, with "24,000 expected to give birth in the coming weeks", amid a near-absence of medical care.

In an additional threat, the WHO's representative in Sudan, Nima Saeed Abid, said there was "a huge biological risk associated with the occupation of the central public health lab... by one of the fighting parties".

Sudan, one of the world's poorest nations, has a troubled history of military coups.

The latest conflict is between forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against those of his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the RSF.

The RSF emerged from the Janjaweed militia that then-president Omar al-Bashir unleashed in the Darfur region two decades ago, leading to war crimes charges against Bashir and others.

The military toppled Bashir in April 2019 following mass citizen protests that raised hopes for a transition to democracy.

The two generals seized power in the 2021 coup, but later fell out, most recently over the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army.

Short link: