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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Gloyer

Fighting Breaks Out in Sudanese Power Struggle

Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees adapt to life in refugee camps as the conflict in Sudan becomes increasingly violent (Henry Wilkins, Wikimedia Commons).

Fighting broke out in Sudan’s Capital, Khartoum, between the paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) on April 15, although it is unclear who initiated the conflict. The Khartoum International Airport has been shut down since the RSF took over the airport, blocking the influx of humanitarian aid and forcing refugees to evacuate on the ground.

The Conflict

The SAF relies on jets to carry out airstrikes on RSF locations. These locations are often highly populated, increasing the threat to civilians. Heavy street fights also contribute to collateral damage, with locals fleeing and public resources like hospitals destroyed.

In addition to the fighting in Khartoum and adjacent cities, fights have broken out across the country in Merowe, Kassala, Port Sudan, Kabkabiya, Al-Fasher, Nyala, Kosti, Gadarif, and Dmnzin (as of April 18). In Darfur, the western province in which conflicts in the early 2000s over access to the rich gold and silver mines led to the genocide of ethnically African inhabitants, the lack of government control has led to increased conflict between local groups.

Several attempts to broker a ceasefire have failed in the first few minutes of the establishment. On May 20, however, the two sides agreed to a seven-day ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid and restore essential services.

Sudan: Setting the Stage Before April 15, 2023

In 2021, the RSF and the SAF worked together to overthrow the transitional government working towards civilian rule. As a result, Abdel Fattag al-Burhan, leader of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), established himself as the country’s leader, with RSF general Mohamed Hmdan Daglo “Hemediti” serving as second-in-command.

As part of a prior constitutional agreement following the 2019 coup, it was agreed that the RSF, a paramilitary made up of “Janjaweed” militia groups, would be put under the control of the SAF. However, amidst the RSF’s continued exertion of power and civilian pressure, al-Burhan began negotiations on establishing the RSF as part of the SAF. Discussions on the timeline of integration, security reform, amendments to the Juba Peace Agreement, justice, and more proved contentious. However, tensions escalated further as Hemediti began to mobilize RSF troops in a move that al-Burhan interpreted as threatening.

Underlying the integration plans was a power struggle that continues to fuel the conflict, with both generals wanting to maintain and assert their control over the country.

Civilian Struggles

The fighting in Sudan has endangered civilians and displaced over a million residents since the conflict began in mid-April. As of May 21, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 843,000 people from regions of heavy conflict have fled to other parts of the country, and 250,000 have fled internationally.

Those who continue to reside in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital and the center of the conflict, face a lack of access to public resources. Gunfire and bombings shut down at least 39 of the 59 municipal hospitals. In other cities like Darfur, the healthcare system “has completely collapsed.” The RSF’s control over the Khartoum International Airport has blocked civilian flights, and the city still has no running water or electricity.

As city residents flee their homes on short notice, some return only to find the place ransacked or inhabited by soldiers. Soldiers from both sides have been looting evacuated houses and living there, and there has been a spike in reported cases of sexual assault.



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