Armed fighters rampage through Darfur city despite Sudan ceasefire

A damaged car and buildings are seen at the central market in Khartoum (REUTERS)
A damaged car and buildings are seen at the central market in Khartoum (REUTERS)

Armed fighters are reportedly rampaging through a main city in Sudan’s war-ravaged region of Darfur, battling each other and looting shops and homes despite an ongoing ceasefire.

The violence on Thursday comes despite a fragile three-day truce between Sudan’s two top generals - whose power struggle has killed hundreds, and seen more than 500 Brits evacuated from the country.

The mayhem in the Darfur city of Genena pointed to how the rival generals’ fight for control in the capital, Khartoum, was spiralling into violence in other parts of Sudan.

The ceasefire has brought a significant easing of fighting in Khartoum and its neighbouring city Omdurman for the first time since the military and a rival paramilitary force began clashing on April 15, turning residential neighbourhoods into battlegrounds.

The relative calm has allowed foreign governments to airlift out hundreds of citizens, while tens of thousands of Sudanese have streamed out of Khartoum, seeking safer areas or escape abroad.

Eight UK flights had evacuated 897 British citizens from Sudan by Thursday afternoon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) confirmed.

An East African initiative was pressing to extend the truce, which is due to run out on Thursday night, for another three days.

The head of the military, General Abdel Fattah Burhan, said he had accepted the proposal but there was no immediate word from his rival, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Even in the capital, fighting has not stopped, residents said. In the western region of Darfur, locals said the violence is escalating to its worst yet.

Darfur has been a battleground between the military and the paramilitary RSF since the conflict began in the middle of this month.

In the city of Genena, the provincial capital of West Darfur, residents said the fighting is now dragging in tribal militias, tapping into longtime hatreds between the region’s two main communities - one that identifies as Arab, the other as East or Central African.

In the early 2000s, Darfur was the scene of an insurgency by African tribes which had long complained of discrimination.

The Khartoum government responded with a military campaign that rights groups have called genocidal, deploying Arab militias known as the Janjaweed who were accused of widespread killings, rapes and atrocities.

The Janjaweed later evolved into the RSF.

Early on Thursday, fighters who mostly wore RSF uniforms attacked several neighbourhoods across Genena, driving many families from their homes.

The violence then spiralled with tribal fighters joining the fray in Genena, a city of around a half million people located near the border with Chad.

It is reportedly often unclear who is fighting whom, with a mix of RSF and tribal militias - some allies of the RSF, some opponents - all running rampant.

The military has largely withdrawn to its barracks, staying out of the clashes, and residents are taking up arms to defend themselves, said Dr Salah Tour, a board member of the Doctors’ Syndicate in West Darfur.

Fighters, some on motorbikes, roamed the streets, destroying and ransacking offices, shops and homes, several residents said.

Across Genena, damage is said to be widespread from days of fighting.

The city’s main open-air market has been destroyed. Government offices and aid agencies’ compounds were trashed and repeatedly burned, including UN premises and the headquarters of the Sudanese Red Crescent.

Two major camps for displaced people have reportedly been burned down and their occupants - mainly women and children from African tribes - dispersed.

“The city is being destroyed,” said Dr Tour, of the Doctors’ Syndicate, who estimated dozens in Genena have died.

Almost all of the city’s medical facilities, including its main hospital, have been out of service for days and the sole hospital still operating cannot be reached because of fighting, he said.

At least 512 people, including civilians and combatants, have been killed in Sudan since April 15, with another 4,200 wounded, according to the Sudanese Health Ministry.