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Sudan battles intensify on 3rd day; civilian deaths reach 97

“Gunfire and shelling are everywhere,” Awadeya Mahmoud Koko, head of a union for thousands of tea vendors and other food workers, said from her home in Khartoum

Sudan battles intensify on 3rd day; civilian deaths reach 97
Smoke rises from the tarmac of Khartoum International Airport as a fire burns, in Khartoum

KHARTOUM: Sudan's embattled capital awoke on Monday to a third day of heavy fighting between the army and a powerful rival force for control of the country, as the weekend's civilian death toll rose to 97.

Airstrikes and shelling intensified in parts of Khartoum and the adjoining city of Omdurman.

Rapid, sustained firing was heard near the military headquarters, with white smoke rising from the area. Residents hunkering down in their homes reported power outages and incidents of looting.

“Gunfire and shelling are everywhere,” Awadeya Mahmoud Koko, head of a union for thousands of tea vendors and other food workers, said from her home in Khartoum.

She said a shell stuck a neighbour's house on Sunday, killing at least three people. “We couldn't take them to a hospital or bury them.” The clashes are part of a power struggle between Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the commander of the armed forces, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the head of the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group.

The two generals are former allies who jointly orchestrated an October 2021 military coup that derailed Sudan's short-lived transition to democracy.

Both men have dug in, saying they would not negotiate a truce, instead engaging in verbal attacks and demanding the other's surrender.

On Monday, Dagalo, whose forces grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias in Sudan's Darfur region, portrayed himself in a statement on Twitter as a defender of democracy and branded Burhan as the aggressor and a “radical Islamist”.

Pro-democracy activists have noted that both generals have a long history of human rights abuses.

At the same time, both men have powerful foreign backers, making them potentially susceptible to mounting diplomatic pressure to end the fighting.

Since fighting erupted on Saturday, 97 civilians have been killed and hundreds have been wounded, said the Sudan Doctors' Syndicate, a pro-democracy group monitoring casualties.

There has been no official word on the number of fighters killed.

Footage posted online on Monday purported to show RSF barracks in Omdurman. The bodies of dozens of men in camouflage uniforms were seen sprawled on beds and the floor of a medical ward and in a sandy outdoor area.

The authenticity of the videos could not be confirmed independently, but they surfaced after the military said it has targeted RSF bases with airstrikes. Mohmed al-Mokhtar al-Nour, an RSF adviser, told the Al Jazeera satellite network Sunday that RSF forces have withdrawn from the camp.

The chaotic scenes of fighting with tanks, truck-mounted machine guns, artillery and warplanes in densely populated areas of the capital are unprecedented. Sudan has a long history of civil strife, but much of that has taken place in remote tribal areas, far from Khartoum.

Fighting also spread to the war-wrecked western Darfur region, and areas of northern and eastern Sudan, near the borders with Egypt and Ethiopia.

The violence erupted during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends later this week and is capped by the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday.

The battles created more hardships for Sudan, where about 16 million people, or one-third of the population, depend on humanitarian assistance.

Over the weekend, the World Food Programme suspended operations in Sudan after three employees were killed in Darfur. On Monday, the International Rescue Committee also said it was halting its work because of the conflict, with the exception of a refugee camp in the southeast.

On Sunday, the warring sides agreed to a three-hour pause in fighting to allow civilians to stock up on necessities. Compliance was spotty, and there were reports of casualties during the humanitarian pause. Volker Perthes, the UN envoy for Sudan, called out the breaches on Monday and urged both sides to “ensure the protection of all civilians''.

Koko, the head of the tea vendors' union, said Burhan and Dagalo must stop fighting and withdraw troops from residential areas. “We, the people, want to live in peace,” she said. ''We want security.” Top diplomats urged the sides to stop fighting, including the US secretary of state, the UN secretary-general, the EU foreign policy chief, the head of the Arab League and the head of the African Union Commission. The UN Security Council was to discuss the developments in Sudan later on Monday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken renewed his call for a truce and a return to negotiations during a meeting of the Group of Seven wealthy nations in Japan on Monday.

“People in Sudan want the military back in the barracks,'' he said. ''They want democracy. They want the civilian-led government, Sudan needs to return to that path.” In recent months, negotiations had been under way to get back on a path to democracy. Under international pressure, Burhan and Dagalo agreed to a framework agreement with political parties and pro-democracy groups.

However, the deal was vague on key points of dispute, including how the RSF would be integrated into the armed force and who would have final control. The signing of the deal was put off repeatedly as tensions rose between Burhan and Dagalo.

The fighting marks a deadly setback for Sudan, a resource-rich nation strategically located at the crossroads of Africa and the Arab world. Only four years ago, Sudan inspired hope after a popular uprising helped depose long-time autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir.

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