A month into Sudan’s brutal war, no end in sight

One month since Sudan’s conflict erupted, its capital is a desolate war zone where terrorised families huddle at home as gun battles rage, while the western Darfur region has descended into deadly chaos.

The capital of five million, long a place of relative stability, has become a shell of its former self.

Charred aircraft lie on the airport tarmac, foreign embassies are shuttered and hospitals, banks, shops and wheat silos have been ransacked by looters.

Violence also renewed in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state, leaving hundreds killed and the health system in “total collapse”, medics said.

Fighting continued on Monday, with loud explosions heard across Khartoum and thick smoke billowing in the sky while warplanes drew anti-aircraft fire, according to witnesses.

“The situation is becoming worse by the day,” said a 37-year-old resident of southern Khartoum who did not wish to be named because of safety concerns.

“People are getting more and more scared because the two sides… are becoming more and more violent.”

The fighting broke out on April 15 between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who leads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

What remains of the government has retreated to Port Sudan about 850 kilometres (500 miles) away, the hub for mass evacuations.

The United Nations says nearly 200,000 people have fled Sudan and another 700,000 have been internally displaced by the battles.

“We’re left on the street, in the sun,” complained Hamden Mohammed, who fled the Khartoum area for Port Sudan. “We want the organisations to evacuate us from Sudan, because the country is totally devastated. There’s no food, no work… nothing.”

Violence on Friday and Saturday alone in El Geneina, the West Darfur capital, left at least 280 killed, according to the Sudanese doctors’ union, which cited “difficulties in surveying all casualties”.

“There was still heavy shelling on Sunday that hit my home, damaging a part of it and injuring one of my sisters,” said a resident of El Geneina.

“Other houses around us were completely destroyed.”

After a month of war, Burhan declared he was freezing the RSF’s assets. He dismissed the central bank governor and the police director general, while Daglo threatened in an audio recording that the army chief would be “brought to justice and hanged” in a public square.

History of coups 

Neither side has been able to establish dominance on the battlefield.

The army, backed by Egypt, has the advantage of air power while Daglo is, according to experts, supported by the United Arab Emirates and foreign fighters.

Daglo commands troops that stemmed from the notorious Janjaweed militia, accused of atrocities in the Darfur war that began two decades ago.

For now, “both sides believe that they can win militarily”, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a recent Senate hearing.

Multiple truce deals have been violated as hopes dimmed for an end to the fighting.

Both sides “break ceasefires with a regularity that demonstrates a sense of impunity unprecedented even by Sudan’s standards of civil conflict,” said Alex Rondos, the European Union’s former special representative to the Horn of Africa.

As Washington and other foreign powers lifted sanctions, Sudan was slowly reintegrating into the international community, before the generals derailed that transition with another coup in 2021.

The security breakdown has broadened to the country’s regions where ethnic violence last week left more than 50 killed in West Kordofan and White Nile states, according to the UN.

‘Poorer for longer’ 

The fighting has deepened the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, where one in three people already relied on humanitarian assistance before the war.

Since then, aid agencies have been looted and at least 18 of their workers killed.

Across the Red Sea, in the Saudi city of Jeddah, envoys from both sides have been negotiating.

By May 11 they had signed a commitment to respect humanitarian principles, including allowing in badly needed aid.

“Scarcely had the two warring parties signed the Jeddah Agreement on Thursday night when chaos erupted once again in Geneina,” according to William Carter, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director.

Doctors Without Borders said food shortages in Darfur displacement camps mean “people have gone from three meals a day to just one”.

Aly Verjee, a Sudan researcher at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, said the fighting has caused “the partial deindustrialisation of Sudan”.