Shortage of electricity, food and water and indiscriminate firing and bombing are the main threats that Indians are facing in Sudan that is caught in a conflict between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF).
The Hindu was told of the ground reality in Sudan by several stranded Indians against the backdrop of a testy exchange on social media between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and former Karnataka Chief Minister and Congress leader Siddaramaiah regarding the condition of Indian nationals in Sudan.
Sources on April 19 said the Ministry and the Embassy of India in Sudan were “continuously monitoring” the developments in the crisis-torn African country and that the authorities were in touch with the ‘The Quartet’ countries — U.S., U.K., Saudi Arabia and UAE — to ensure the safety of Indian nationals in Sudan.
“Our hotel is without electricity for five days. Food and water are in short supply. Earlier today, the hotel was looted by the paramilitary forces. Most of Khartoum has been without electricity as well and the paramilitary has not been allowing repairs,” an Indian national said over telephone from the Sudanese capital.
He said that looting by the paramilitary side was a major problem and urged the government to ensure safety of Indians through international mediation.
Another frequent traveller to Sudan, hailing from Mumbai, said he walked several kilometres after the airport became a scene of clashes between the two sides and took refuge in a hotel which has now run out of power and has resorted to rationing of food.
“The bombing and shooting continues from early morning till late night. The Sudanese Armed Forces were strong in the capital and now the Rapid Support Forces which had a base outside the capital is trying to gain an upper hand. Soon we will not be able to charge our phones anymore and we can’t even think of venturing out because of the fighting,” said the traveller.
“The External Affairs Minister has spoken to counterparts in Saudi Arabia and UAE. Both have assured their practical support on the ground. Our Ambassador in Washington DC and High Commissioner in London are in touch with their respective host Governments. We are also working with the UN, which has a substantial presence in Sudan,” an informed source has said.
The Ministry earlier set up a dedicated Control Room (toll-free number 1800118797) for the nearly 1,500 Indian nationals who are caught in multiple locations across Sudan.
An Indian national who spoke to The Hindu from Khartoum on the condition of anonymity urged the Government of India to engage with Russia as the Sudanese Armed Forces are known to have good ties with Moscow.
Mr. Jaishankar had earlier described Mr. Siddaramaiah’s intervention in the matter as “appalling” after the veteran Congress leader had pointed out that at least 31 people from the Hakki Pikki tribe of Karnataka were in Sudan.
Mr. Jaishankar had said in response, “There are lives at stake: don’t do politics.”. The response also attracted a remark from the Congress’s communications chief Jairam Ramesh, who described it as “a most appalling response”.
The exchange temporarily overshadowed the situation facing the Indian community in Sudan due to the conflict between the RSF and the SAF.
The RSF favours a slower transition to civilian rule and the SAF favours a transition within the next two years. The paramilitary has been arguing that the SAF is championing Islamists and has members of the Islamic Brotherhood in its ranks. General Fattah al Burhan, leader of the SAF has argued that he wants the RSF to come under a unified command of the SAF.
This particular issue described as Security Sector Reform (SSR) has been at the heart of the crisis between the paramilitary and the military.
The RSF led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo has evolved from the Janjaweed militia that was earlier known for military excesses during the Darfur crisis which led to widespread displacement and human rights violation in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been among the leading international players who have been active in the Sudanese theatre with Sudanese analysts pointing at growing Egyptian military presence in northern Sudan. Sudan’s current political crisis broke out in the backdrop of the overthrow of the long-term President Omar al-Bashir who had travelled to India for the India-Africa Forum Summit of October 2015.
An Indian citizen from Khartoum told The Hindu earlier that a large number of Indians were scattered across capital Khartoum and some of them had taken refuge in a prominent hotel.
“Situation on the street is very tense and movement is very risky at this stage. Our priority is safety of movement and well-being of individuals wherever they are located. While both the Ministry and the Embassy are continuously monitoring the situation, concern of safety and security constrain us from putting out specific details,” said the source.