Shelling, looting in Sudan's capital as military factions battle for eighth week
PHOTO CAPTION: A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
By Khalid Abdelaziz and Mohamed Nureldin
KHARTOUM (Reuters) -Shelling and heavy clashes hit areas of Sudan's capital on Monday, residents said, with reports of spreading lawlessness in Khartoum and in the western region of Darfur after more than seven weeks of conflict between rival military factions.
Fighting between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) intensified after the expiry late on Saturday of a ceasefire deal brokered by Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
The war has uprooted more than 1.2 million people within Sudan and sent about 400,000 fleeing into neighbouring countries, inflicting heavy damage on the capital where the remaining residents are at the mercy of battles, air strikes and looting.
On Monday, residents reported a second consecutive day of fighting across the three cities that make up the nation's wider capital - Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri. They said there had been rare ground clashes in Omdurman as well as shelling, and fighting in East Khartoum district and on the southern rim of the capital.
"The neighbourhood where we live in the centre of Omdurman is looted publicly on a daily basis without anyone intervening to prevent it, with clashes and shelling continuing around us," said 37-year-old resident Mohamed Saleh.
In Khartoum East, RSF troops who have spread out in neighbourhoods across the capital were in full control and were looting extensively, said Waleed Adam, a resident of the area.
"You see them right in front of you, taking cars, money, gold - whatever they can get their hands on," he told Reuters by phone. "I guess it's just a matter of time until they come to my street."
The RSF says it has been working to protect civilians by arresting looters.
Some of those who fled the war have headed to neighbouring countries including Chad, South Sudan, and Central African Republic (CAR) which are already struggling with poverty, conflict and a dip in humanitarian aid.
The arrival of nearly 14,000 people in northeastern CAR and a halt to cross-border trade "puts additional pressure on the limited resources available to the 130,000 extremely vulnerable people in the region," Mohamed Ag Ayoya, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for CAR, told a press briefing in Geneva.
The war has also triggered unrest in Darfur in Sudan's far west, a region that was already suffering from mass displacement due to earlier conflict and where residents in several cities and towns have reported attacks by militias linked to Arab nomadic tribes.
In recent days at least 40 people were killed and dozens more were wounded in Kutum in North Darfur State, according to activists who monitor the region. Residents have also reported widespread looting and insecurity in the area.
On Monday, the RSF, which has its power base in Darfur and its origins in the Arab-dominated militias, released a video purporting to show they had taken over the army headquarters in Kutum, a commercial hub and one of the larger towns in the state.
There was no immediate comment from the army, which had denied on Sunday that the RSF had taken the town.
There have been long communication blackouts in parts of Darfur, where aid groups have found it especially complicated to bring in humanitarian supplies.
In El Obeid, a city 360 km (220 miles) southwest of Khartoum and on a key route from the capital to Darfur, residents reported large deployments of RSF forces and the closure of some roads.
Recent days have brought the first showers of the year in Khartoum, marking the start of a rainy season that is likely to complicate a relief effort already hampered by bureaucratic delays and logistical challenges.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Dubai, Mohamed Nureldin in Khartoum, Adam Makary in Cairo and Emma Farge in Geneva; Writing by Aidan LewisEditing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Barbara Lewis and Matthew Lewis)