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Sudan violence forces up to 20,000 to flee to Chad

April 20, 2023

Between 10,000 and 20,000 people have fled the Western Darfur region, as violence rages for a sixth day. Battles between forces loyal to the army and the paramilitary group RSF are showing no signs of abating.

People flee their neighborhoods amid fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary group RSF in Khartoum
Many Sudanese civilians, including women and children, are trying to escape the battle zones to safer areasImage: AFP

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Thursday that between 10,000 and 20,000 people have fled Sudan's western Darfur region in the past few days, seeking refuge in neighboring Chad, as the battle between the country's military and strongest paramilitary group rages on.

Those arriving are mostly women and children, the UNHCR said, adding that it was working with the Chadian government to assess their needs and prepare a joint response.

"Tragically we have already received reports of refugees caught in the ongoing fighting in Sudan," said Raouf Mazou, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Operations. “It is urgent that the conflict stops to prevent the loss of more lives." 

Fighting in Sudan entered its sixth day on Thursday, as explosions and gunfire rocked the capital, Khartoum, and the adjacent city of Omdurman, prompting thousands of residents to flee.

The bloodshed, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 330 civilians and left many wounded, shows no signs of letting up.

Battles are continuing between forces loyal to the head of the army — Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the country's de facto ruler — and his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, known as Hemedti, who commands the paramilitary RSF group.

Both men, with a long history of human rights abuses, are battling for control of Africa's third-largest country, which is rich in natural resources.   

The violence has left many civilians trapped indoors and desperately seeking essential supplies, including food, water and medicine.

Around 70% of hospitals near the clash sites throughout the country are out of service, the Sudanese Doctors Syndicate said Thursday. At least nine hospitals were bombed, it added.

Thousands of Sudanese, including women and children, have fled the capital since the outbreak of the violence. Many are still trying to escape the battle zones to safer areas.

US deploys forces to neighboring countries

The US is moving additional troops and equipment to neighboring countries, as part of a contingency plan to evacuate its embassy personnel stuck in Sudan.

The Pentagon said in a Thursday statement the deployments were "for contingency purposes related to securing and potentially facilitating the departure of US Embassy personnel from Sudan, if circumstances require it."

Media reports said troops and equipment were being moved to a Naval base in Djibouti.

Two Biden administration officials told the Associated Press news agency the deployments were necessary due to the uncertainty of the situation.

Why is the fighting not stopping?

Both the warring parties said earlier they would respect a 24-hour cease-fire that was due to come into effect at 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) on Wednesday. But the truce was quickly broken by renewed fighting.

Wednesday's cease-fire was the second to fail in two days. A previous truce had been planned from sundown Tuesday to sundown Wednesday, but it never came to fruition.

The UN, the United States and Arab officials on Thursday urged the fighting parties to observe a cease-fire during the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, which starts on Friday and lasts for three days.

"The cessation of hostilities must be followed by serious dialogue allowing for the successful transition, starting with the appointment of a civilian government," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. "The fighting must stop immediately."

Hemedti told the Qatar-based Al Jazeera broadcaster that he was ready to commit to an Eid truce. However, both leaders told Al Jazeera they refused to sit with one another and talk.

Smoke rises amid clashes in the Sudanese capital between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF)
The bloodshed has so far claimed the lives of over 270 civilians and left many woundedImage: Mahmoud Hjaj/AA/picture alliance

How are world powers reacting to the violence?

World powers have been trying to put pressure on both sides to agree and enforce a cease-fire. A number of countries are struggling to evacuate their citizens after the airport and several districts housing foreign embassies were caught up in the violence.

Japan and the Netherlands are stationing more resources in nearby countries like Djibouti and Jordan to react quickly and evacuate their citizens as soon as the situation allows. 

The European Union on Thursday called for a cease-fire. "The fighting must stop," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in Brussels.

He also urged the parties to protect the civilian population and ensure swift and unhindered access to humanitarian aid.

The outbreak of violence undermines efforts to restore democracy in Sudan, Borrell underlined, noting that it also risks causing political instability in the region.

Egypt, meanwhile, said it repatriated dozens of its military personnel who had been held by the RSF. The Sudanese military also confirmed the evacuation, putting the number of Egyptian personnel at 177.

What's the conflict about?

The fighting is the latest chapter in Sudan's political turmoil of recent years.

The country witnessed mass protests against three decades of iron-fisted rule under dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The demonstrations were led by an alliance of pro-democracy activists.

Burhan and Daglo, along with other generals, staged a coup to topple Bashir.

The generals and civilian protest leaders then struck a power-sharing deal with the aim of later holding elections and forming a civilian government.

Burhan and Daglo then jointly orchestrated a coup in October 2021, derailing efforts to hand over power to a civilian government.

Under international pressure, both generals recently agreed to a framework agreement with political parties and pro-democracy groups.

But the signing was repeatedly delayed amid tensions over the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army and the future chain of command.

sri/nm (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)