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Fleeing from Conflict: Masses of Sudanese Cross Border to Safety


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Thousands of Sudanese have migrated to neighboring Chad to escape the fighting in the western region of Darfur, while thousands more left the capital, Khartoum, as heavy gunfire erupted on Thursday after another failed ceasefire.

Forces led by two former coalition leaders in Sudan’s ruling council began a violent power struggle last weekend that has so far killed more than 330 people, plunging a country dependent on food aid into what the United Nations describes as a humanitarian catastrophe.

The fiercest battles between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces took place around Khartoum, one of the largest urban areas in Africa, and in Darfur, still reeling from a brutal conflict that ended three years ago.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program said Thursday that between 10,000 and 20,000 people who fled the fighting have taken refuge in villages along the border inside Chad.

Witnesses in El Obeid, East Darfur, described clashes between the army and paramilitary forces and widespread looting.

In the capital and its sister cities Omdurman and Bahri, residents gathered at bus stations with their bags after more explosions and shootings in the morning.

“There is no food, the supermarkets are empty, the situation is not safe, frankly, people are leaving,” said one Khartoum resident, who gave only his first name, Abdelmalek.

Many other locals are still trapped, along with thousands of aliens, in a city that is rapidly becoming a war zone.

Burnt-out cars littered the streets and shells ripped holes in buildings, including the now-closed hospitals where bodies lie unburied.

Even before the conflict, about a quarter of Sudan’s population was suffering from acute hunger. However, the World Food Program halted one of its largest global operations in the country on Saturday after three workers were killed.

Sudan borders seven countries and is strategically located between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Africa’s restive Sahel region, so the hostilities risk inflaming regional tensions.

Chad said it stopped and disarmed a 320-strong Sudanese unit on Monday, while the RSF returned Egyptian forces it captured at the northern Maroe base at the weekend.

Eid truce?

A diplomatic source said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is holding a virtual summit with the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union, among others, in an all-out bid for a ceasefire.

The commander of the Rapid Support Forces, Major General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, told Al Jazeera that he was ready to implement a three-day truce before the Eid, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan and begins on Friday or Saturday.

Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, said he supported short ceasefires several times, but each quickly collapsed. But the military ruler, Major General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, told Al Jazeera: “There is no other option but a military solution.”

“We are talking about a humanitarian truce, we are talking about safe passages, we are not talking about sitting with a criminal,” Hemedti said.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization urged combatants to open safe passage for medics and allow those trapped to flee. International forces, which are struggling to evacuate citizens after the airport and embassy areas have fallen into a cycle of violence, are also pressing for truces,

Analysts say the RSF numbers up to 100,000 soldiers. The army has artillery and fighter planes and controls access to Khartoum. Residents and witnesses said it appeared to be trying to cut off supply routes to RSF fighters.

The United States said evacuating citizens was “not safe at this time” while Japan’s Defense Ministry stationed military transport planes in Djibouti in preparation for the withdrawal of 63 of its citizens.

“power grab”

Since the outbreak of hostilities, most of the fighting has focused on the complex housing the army headquarters and Burhan’s residence.

Al-Burhan Dagalo of Reporters Without Borders, until last week, accused his deputy in the council, which has ruled since the coup two years ago, of “seizing power.”

The alliance between the two men has remained mostly intact since the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir four years ago, whose rule saw Sudan turn into an international pariah state on the US terror list.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Burhan said much of the RSF is now “out of control”, accusing the militants of looting and attacking foreign diplomats and aid workers.

Washington said it had initial indications that the RSF was behind an attack on its diplomats, and witnesses say RSF militants are involved in looting and attacks on aid workers.

On the other hand, Dagalo told the “Financial Times” that the armed forces are responsible for the bombing of hospitals and non-military targets, as well as attacks on “diplomats and guests.”

The latest violence was triggered by a dispute over an internationally backed plan to form a new civilian government. Both sides accuse the other of thwarting the transition.

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