Even as several countries launched a whirlwind evacuation of their nationals from violence-wreaked Sudan, armed fighters reportedly rampaged through a main city in Darfur on Thursday, battling each other and looting shops and homes, despite the 72-hours ceasefire arrived between the two warring militaries. However, later on Thursday, both the sides agreed to extend the 72-hour extension of the truce.
The mayhem in the Darfur city of Genena pointed to how the rival generals fight for control in the capital, Khartoum, was spiralling into violence in other parts of Sudan.
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The ceasefire agreement, brokered by the United States and Saudi Arabia, has not stopped the fighting but created enough of a lull for tens of thousands of Sudanese to flee to safer areas and for foreign nations to evacuate hundreds of their citizens by land and sea.
Fewer cases of violence
The ceasefire has brought a significant easing of fighting in Khartoum and its neighbouring city Omdurman for the first time since the military and a rival paramilitary force began clashing on April 15.
The fighting had turned residential neighbourhoods into battlegrounds.
Both the military, led by General Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, said late Thursday that they accepted the extension of the truce.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has spoken repeatedly with both generals, had earlier acknowledged the limits of the ceasefire.
“We’ve had a 72-hour ceasefire, which like most ceasefires is imperfect but nonetheless has reduced violence,” he said.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly urged UK nationals who want to leave to get to an airfield north of Khartoum for evacuation flights before the truce runs out Thursday at midnight.
“The situation could deteriorate over the coming days,” he warned. Britain said it has evacuated 897 people on eight flights to Cyprus, with operations continuing.
Even in the capital, fighting has not stopped, residents said. In the western region of Darfur, residents said the violence was escalating to its worst yet.
Tribal militias join fight
Darfur has been a battleground between the military and the paramilitary RSF since the conflict began nearly two weeks ago.
Residents said the fighting in Genena was now dragging in tribal militias, tapping into long-time hatred between the region’s two main communities, one that identifies as Arab, the other as East or Central African.
In the early 2000s, African tribes in Darfur that had long complained of discrimination rebelled against the Khartoum government, which responded with a military campaign that the International Criminal Court later said amounted to genocide.
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State-backed Arab militias known as the Janjaweed were accused of widespread killings, rapes and other atrocities.
The Janjaweed later evolved into the RSF.
Early Thursday, fighters who mostly wore RSF uniforms attacked several neighbourhoods across Genena, driving many families from their homes.
The violence escalated with tribal fighters joining the fray in Genena, a city of around half a million people located near the border with Chad.
“The attacks come from all directions,” said Amany, a Genena resident. “All are fleeing.”
It was often unclear who was fighting whom, with a mix of RSF and tribal militias some allies of the RSF, some opponents all running rampant.
Military stays out of clashes
The military has largely withdrawn to its barracks, staying out of the clashes, and residents were taking up arms to defend themselves, said Dr. Salah Tour, a board member of the Doctors’ Syndicate in the West Darfur province, of which Genena is the capital.
The syndicate estimated that dozens of people were killed and hundreds wounded.
Almost all of Genena’s medical facilities, including its main hospital, have been out of service for days, and the sole functioning hospital is inaccessible because of the fighting.
Criminal gangs looted the main hospital, stealing vehicles and equipment and destroying the hospitals blood bank, the syndicate said.
Fighters, some on motorcycles, roamed the streets, destroying and ransacking offices, shops and homes, several residents said.
“It’s a scorched earth war,” said Adam Haroun, a political activist in West Darfur.
Haroun and other residents said the city’s main open-air market was completely destroyed.
Government offices and aid agencies compounds were trashed and repeatedly burned, including U.N. premises and the headquarters of the Sudanese Red Crescent.
Thousands flee homes
Two major camps for displaced people have been burned down, their occupants mainly women and children from African tribes dispersed, said Abdel-Shafei Abdalla, a senior member of a local group that helps administer camps.
Elsewhere in Darfur, there have been sporadic clashes, particularly in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur province.
Thousands have fled their homes in Nyala, and others are too afraid to go outside for food and water, Abdalla said.
Earlier this month, fighters allegedly from the RSF destroyed and looted warehouses for the World Food Program and other aid agencies in Nyala.
At least 512 people, including civilians and combatants, have been killed in Sudan since April 15, with another 4,200 wounded, according to the Sudanese Health Ministry.
The Doctors Syndicate, which tracks civilian casualties, has recorded at least 295 civilians killed and 1,790 wounded.
Meanwhile, in Khartoum, residents reported gunfire and explosions in some parts of the capital on Thursday.
They said the military’s warplanes bombed RSF positions in the upscale neighbourhood of Kafouri.
The RSF confirmed its camp in the neighbourhood was bombed.
Many are struggling to obtain food and water, and electricity is cut off across much of Khartoum and other cities. Multiple aid agencies have had to suspend operations.
Fearing that fighting will escalate once more, Sudanese and foreigners have been rushing to escape.
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Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said 14,000 Sudanese have fled into Egypt. Long lines of buses continue to form at the border, and tens of thousands more have gone to other neighbouring countries or to the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, trying to get onto ferries to Saudi Arabia.
Iraq and Yemen’s internationally recognised government each said they had helped more than
200 of their citizens escape Sudan.
Canada carried out its first evacuation flight on Thursday after facing criticism for a slow response, with allies doing the heavy lifting to help Canadians leave the country until now.
(With inputs from agencies)