Apr 16, 2023 - World

Dozens dead in Sudan as fighting between military and rival militia intensifies

It's some of the worst unrest the country, particularly the capital Khartoum, has seen in years.

Smoke rises as fighting continues in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on April 16. Photo: Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Fighting between the Sudanese military and the rival Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group continued for a second day on Sunday, with a Sudanese physicians' association reporting that dozens of soldiers and civilians have been killed and hundreds of others injured.

Why it matters: It's some of the worst unrest the country, particularly the capital Khartoum, has seen in years. It also exacerbates the political crisis Sudan has faced for months and makes it even harder for the country to return to the democratic transition process.

Driving the news: Worsening tensions between the military and the RSF boiled over Saturday and the violence intensified on Sunday with the Sudanese air force bombing RSF bases.

  • Both the military and the RSF continued issuing statements claiming gains, but it is unclear how many of these are factual and reliable.
  • During the day, the military and the RSF agreed to a request by the U.N. to observe a humanitarian cease-fire, but the fighting resumed shortly after the truce ended.
  • The actual death toll remains unclear, but the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors reported earlier Sunday that at least 56 civilians had been killed. The UN World Food Program temporarily suspended its operations in Sudan after three of its workers were killed in the fighting in the North Darfur region, said Cindy McCain, the group's executive director. She added that one of the WFP's aircraft had been "significantly damaged" at Khartoum International Airport.

Catch up quick: A December 2018 uprising, which eventually saw the ouster of 30-year ruler Omar al-Bashir, was followed by a power-sharing agreement between the military and the Forces of Freedom and Change, a coalition of political parties and factions that demonstrated against al-Bashir, Wasil Ali wrote for Axios in December.

  • But on Oct. 25, 2021, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan staged a military coup that ended the partnership model.
  • Late last year, the Sudanese military and the country's coalition of civilian parties signed a political agreement in which the military agreed to hand over power, but the process has stalled.
  • That's largely due to disagreements between the Sudanese military headed by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF, led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — known as Hemedti.

State of play: Several countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been trying to begin a mediation process between the military and the RSF with little success.

  • Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan on Sunday spoke separately with al-Burhan and Hemedti and pressed them to stop the fighting and return to implementing the political framework agreement between the military and the civilian parties, according to a statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry.
  • On Saturday night, the Saudi foreign minister held a conference call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to consult on the crisis in Sudan.
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke on the phone with South Sudan President Salva Kiir. They both announced they are ready to mediate between the military and the RSF, according to an Egyptian presidency statement.
  • Pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Hadath reported that Egyptian officials are working on an initiative to reach a cease-fire, as well as an agreement that would set a timetable for integrating the RSF into the Sudanese military.

What they're saying: Blinken in a statement urged the leaders of the military and the RSF to take active measures to reduce tensions and ensure the safety of all civilians.

  • “The only way forward is to return to negotiations that support the Sudanese people’s democratic aspirations," Blinken said.

Go deeper: Listen to the Axios Today podcast, where host Niala Boodhoo shares three things to understand about what’s going on in Sudan now.

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