The fighting in Sudan, which has re-erupted after a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire collapsed at the weekend, has the potential to be “worse than Ukraine” for civilians, according to Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the UN.
Mohammed said Sudan’s army and its rival paramilitary group were waging an indiscriminate battle for Khartoum, the capital city of 6mn people. The air force’s bombardment of paramilitary fighters who had dug into positions in people’s homes threatened to cause mass casualties, she said.
Civilians in Khartoum are hiding in houses without air shelters while the air force is bombing parts of the city. There are widespread reports of soldiers belonging to the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary unit, commandeering homes, in effect turning the city’s inhabitants into human shields.
Referring to the two generals at the centre of the conflict, Mohammed told the Financial Times: “They’ve gone Awol and there’s no return to a status quo.”
She added: “We have to pull whatever strings we can to stop them fighting.”
The clashes started two weeks ago between the Sudanese armed forces led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the de facto president, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti, who commands the RSF.
The latest official death toll is 459, but witnesses in Khartoum report seeing bodies piled in the streets and on the back of trucks. The UN fears the actual number of people killed could be much higher.
Intense diplomatic efforts at both regional and international levels have so far failed to persuade either the Sudanese armed forces or the RSF to talk, diplomats said.
Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese businessman, speaking at a forum his foundation was holding in Nairobi, said: “There’s a major crime today on the streets of Khartoum.”
“These people are intoxicated by power, money and each of them thinks they can become the new Bashir,” he said, referring to Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese dictator who was ousted in 2019.
Malaz Elgemiabby, a Sudanese architect living in Dubai, said her family members in Khartoum were recounting horror stories of RSF fighters forcing their way into people’s homes, raping and looting. “They’re forcing slave women as young as 16 to cook for them,” she said. The RSF has denied harassing civilians.
“Right now we have a crazy, power-hungry guy who is looting our country,” Elgemiabby said, referring to Hemeti whose fighters she described as out of control.
Abdalla Hamdok, Sudan’s former prime minister, said the war threatened to drag in neighbouring countries. “God forbid if Sudan is to reach a point of civil war proper,” he said. “Whatever the reasons that have brought us here, the number one priority today is this war has got to stop today . . . because it has so many complications if it is not stopped.”
Mohammed el-Hassan Labat, who has acted as the African Union’s special envoy to Sudan, said if the generals did not negotiate, they should be tried for “war crimes”. He said it was vital for the international community “to put our collective and common pressure on the two generals to make them stop and to threaten them very clearly that if they don’t resolve this they will expose themselves to criminal trials”.
Over recent weeks, several countries including the UK, US and Saudi Arabia have evacuated thousands of citizens, both from an air base on the outskirts of Khartoum and from Port Sudan.
The UK said it alone had evacuated nearly 1,900 people, but that it was stopping rescue flights because it was becoming too dangerous. Tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees have escaped by land to Egypt, Chad and other neighbouring countries.