Fighting has erupted in Sudan’s capital Khartoum and other parts of the country this month as powerful rival military factions battle for control of the African nation and its future.
So far, more than 420 people, including 264 civilians, have been killed in the conflict and more than 3,700 have been injured.
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The sudden slide into violence between the Sudanese military and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has stranded thousands of foreigners, including diplomats and aid workers in the country, with the UK, US, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states among which are closing their embassies and working to evacuate their citizens.
The evacuations are currently taking place by air and through Port Sudan on the Red Sea, which is about 500 miles northeast of Khartoum by road, but are complicated by the fact that most major airports have become battlefields and leaving the capital has been dangerous. .
British families caught up in the fighting accused the UK government of “abandoning” them, though Prime Minister Rishi Sunak praised diplomatic efforts to ensure safe passage for them, with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly involved in ongoing negotiations and the Foreign Minister Andrew Mitchell assuring them that all avenues are being pursued.
Alicia Kearns, Conservative chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told BBC Radio 4 Today program that the number of people waiting to be evacuated could be “3,000, 4,000 more”, adding that those on the ground lived in “abject fear”, had little food and water left and were even reduced to killing their relatives. pets in some cases. “because they are worried that they are going to starve to death.”
One man told the BBC his employer had put him on a bus because “we have received absolutely nothing but government nonsense”.
Meanwhile, the family of Trillian Clifford, an American teacher stuck in Sudan with her young daughter, has said the independent she is “very terrified” and appealed to the State Department to rescue her.
What is happening in Sudan?
Tension had been building for months between the Sudanese army and the RSF, which together toppled a civilian government in a coup in October 2021.
Friction came to a head over an internationally backed plan to launch a new transition with civilian parties. A final agreement was scheduled to be signed in early April, on the fourth anniversary of the ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising.
Both the army and the RSF were required to cede power under the plan, and two issues proved particularly contentious: one was the timeline for the RSF to integrate into the regular armed forces, the second was when the army would formally come under civilian supervision. .
When fighting broke out on April 15, both sides blamed the other for sparking the violence. The army accused the RSF of illegal mobilization in the previous days and the RSF, while moving through key strategic sites in Khartoum, said that the army had tried to seize all power in a plot with Bashir loyalists.
Who is fighting whom?
The protagonists of the power struggle are General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the army and head of Sudan’s ruling council since 2019, and his deputy on the council, RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known like Hemedti.
As the plan for a new transition unfolded, Hemedti aligned himself more closely with the civilian parties of a coalition, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), which shared power with the military between the ouster of Bashir and the coup of 2021.
Diplomats and analysts said this was part of a strategy by Hemedti to become a statesman. Both the FFC and Hemedti, who grew rich through gold mining and other ventures, stressed the need to sideline Bashir loyalists and Islamist-leaning veterans who had regained a foothold after the coup and have deep roots in the military.
Along with some pro-army rebel factions that benefited from a 2020 peace deal, Bashir loyalists opposed the deal for a new transition.
What is at stake?
The popular uprising had raised hopes that Sudan and its population of 46 million could emerge from decades of autocracy, internal conflict and economic isolation under Bashir.
The conflict could not only destroy those hopes, but also destabilize an unstable region that borders the Sahel, the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa.
It could also play into the competition for influence in the region between Russia and the United States and between regional powers that have courted different players in Sudan.
What about other countries?
Western powers, including the US and UK, had been leaning towards a transition to democratic elections after Bashir’s ouster. They cut off financial support after the coup and later endorsed the plan for a new transition and civilian rule.
Energy-rich powerhouses Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also sought to shape events in Sudan, seeing the transition away from Bashir’s rule as a way to roll back Islamist influence and bolster stability in the region. .
Gulf states have sought investment in sectors including agriculture, where Sudan has great potential, and ports on Sudan’s Red Sea coast.
Russia has been looking to build a naval base in the Red Sea, while several UAE companies have signed on to invest, with a UAE consortium signing a preliminary agreement to build and operate a port and another UAE-based airline. agreeing with a Sudanese partner. to create a new low-cost airline based in Khartoum.
Burhan and Hemedti developed close ties with Saudi Arabia after sending troops to take part in the Saudi-led operation in Yemen. Hemedti has engaged in relations with other foreign powers, including the United Arab Emirates and Russia.
Egypt, ruled by the military president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled his Islamist predecessor, has deep ties to Burhan and the army and has recently promoted a parallel track of political negotiations through parties with stronger ties to the army and the military. Bashir’s previous government.
What could happen?
International parties have called for a ceasefire and a return to dialogue, but there has been little sign of commitment from the warring factions.
The army branded the RSF a rebel force and demanded its disbandment, while Hemedti branded Burhan a criminal and blamed him for causing the country’s destruction.
Although the Sudanese army has superior resources, including air power, and the RSF expanded to an estimated 100,000-strong force that had been deployed to Khartoum and its neighboring cities, as well as other regions, raising the specter of protracted conflict above a long-running economy. crises and large-scale humanitarian needs.
The RSF can also draw on tribal support and ties in western Darfur, where it grew out of militias that fought alongside government forces to crush rebels in a brutal war that escalated after 2003.
Additional information from Reuters