Deafening explosions and intense gunfire shook buildings in the capital Khartoum’s northern and southern suburbs as tanks rumbled on the streets and fighter jets roared overhead, witnesses said.
Violence erupted early Saturday morning after weeks of deepening tensions between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, commander of the heavily-armed paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), with each accusing the other of starting the fight.
Both sides claim they control key sites.
Daglo’s RSF say they have seized the presidential place, Khartoum airport and other strategic sites, but the army insist they are in charge, with the air force late Saturday urging people to stay indoors as it continued air strikes targeting RSF bases.
Footage showed heavy smoke billowing from a building near the army headquarters in central Khartoum.
Created in 2013, the RSF emerged from the Janjaweed militia that then-president Omar al-Bashir unleashed against non-Arab ethnic minorities in the western Darfur region a decade earlier, drawing accusations of war crimes.
The RSF’s planned integration into the regular army was a key element of talks to finalise a deal that would return the country to civilian rule and end the political-economic crisis sparked by the military’s 2021 coup.
“The total number of deaths among civilians reached 56,” said the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, an independent pro-democracy group of medics, adding there were “tens of deaths” among security forces, but they were not included in the toll given early Sunday.
The committee said it had counted around 600 wounded, including some among security forces, but that many casualties could not be transferred to hospitals due to difficulties in moving during the clashes.
Overnight, explosions and shots rang out throughout densely-populated areas of Khartoum.
On Sunday morning, the stench of gunpowder wafted through the streets, deserted except by soldiers as terrified civilians sheltered inside their homes.
“We had a very difficult night, and we couldn’t sleep well because of the sound of the explosions and gunfire,” said Ahmed Seif, who lives in east Khartoum with his family of five.
He said he fears his building was hit by gunfire, but said it was still too dangerous to go outside to check.
“The situation is very worrying and it doesn’t seem like it will calm anytime soon,” he added.
Bakry, 24, who works in marketing, said Khartoum residents had “never seen anything like” this unrest, with the power out across much the city.
“People were terrified and running back home,” said Bakry, who gave only a first name.
Fighting has also erupted outside Khartoum, including in the troubled western Darfur region.
In the eastern border state of Kassala, army fired artillery at a paramilitary camp, according witness Hussein Saleh.
UN chief Antonio Guterres called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities” and spoke to both Burhan and Daglo, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the fighting “threatens the security and safety of Sudanese civilians”.
The Arab League, following a request by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is scheduled to hold an urgent meeting Sunday to discuss the situation.
Similar appeals came from the African Union, the European Union, Russia and Iran.
But the two generals appear in no mood for talks: in an interview with UAE-based Sky News Arabia, Daglo, also known as Hemeti, said, “Burhan the criminal must surrender.”
The army, on its Facebook page, declared Daglo a “wanted criminal” and the RSF a “rebel militia”, saying there “will be no negotiations or talks until the dissolution” of the group.
The latest violence, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, came after more than 120 civilians had already been killed in a crackdown on regular pro-democracy demonstrations over the past 18 months.
The October 2021 coup triggered international aid cuts and sparked near-weekly protests, adding to the deepening troubles of one of the world’s poorest countries.
Burhan, a career soldier from northern Sudan who rose the ranks under the three-decade rule of now jailed Islamist general Bashir, has said the coup was “necessary” to include more factions into politics.
Daglo later called the coup a “mistake” and that failed to bring about change and reinvigorated remnants of Bashir’s regime ousted by the army in 2019 following mass protests.
Understand Africa's tomorrow... today
We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.