Sudan's paramilitary RSF agrees to 72-hour truce on humanitarian grounds, residents report gunfire

The RSF said it had to act in "self-defense" to repel what it described as a coup attempt, adding that it is committed to a "complete ceasefire" during the armistice period

Updated - April 21, 2023 04:14 pm IST

Published - April 21, 2023 10:39 am IST - CAIRO

This video grab taken from AFPTV video footage on April 20, 2023, shows an aerial view of black smoke rising above the Khartoum International Airport amid ongoing battles between the forces of two rival generals.

This video grab taken from AFPTV video footage on April 20, 2023, shows an aerial view of black smoke rising above the Khartoum International Airport amid ongoing battles between the forces of two rival generals. | Photo Credit: AFP

Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) said it had agreed to a 72-hour truce from 6 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) on Friday but residents of Khartoum and its sister city Bahri reported gunfire as Sudanese troops deployed in the cities on foot.

The RSF early on Friday announced a ceasefire after six-days of fighting to coincide with the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr and to allow residents to reunite with their families.

“The truce coincides with the blessed Eid al-Fitr ... to open humanitarian corridors to evacuate citizens and give them the opportunity to greet their families,” the RSF said in a statement.

Also read | EAM Jaishankar discusses Sudan situation with U.N. chief Guterres, pitches for ‘successful diplomacy’ for early ceasefire

There was no immediate comment from the Army and its chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who did not mention a ceasefire in a pre-recorded speech posted on the army’s Facebook page.

Khartoum, the capital, was rocked by bombing and shelling before the ceasefire announcement and witnesses heard gunfire as the ceasefire, and morning Eid prayers, were due to begin.

Residents said soldiers were deploying on foot into some neighbourhoods, apparently indicating that the army was preparing for more clashes.

In Bahri, on the other side of the River Nile, residents said the army had deployed large numbers of soldiers and that they could hear fighting as the RSF and army engaged in gun battles.

Fighting between the RSF and Sudan’s army erupted on Saturday, derailing an internationally backed plan for a transition to a civilian democracy four years after the fall of Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir to mass protests and two years after a military coup.

The RSF said it had to act in “self-defence” to repel what it described as a coup attempt, though adding that it was committed to a “complete ceasefire” during the armistice period.

At least 350 people have been killed in the power struggle between two previously allied leaders of the ruling military junta, Army chief Burhan and RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is widely known as Hemedti.

The conflict has dashed hopes for progress towards democracy in Sudan, risks drawing in its neighbours and could play into regional competition between Russia and the United States.

U.N. appeal

The RSF had earlier condemned the military for what it said was new assaults.

“At this moment, when citizens are preparing to receive the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the neighbourhoods of Khartoum are waking up to the bombings of aircrafts and heavy artillery in a sweeping attack that is directly targeting residential neighbourhoods,” the RSF said early on Friday.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday appealed for a ceasefire to allow civilians to reach safety.

Thousands of civilians streamed out of Khartoum as gunfire and explosions sounded on Thursday. Large numbers also crossed into Chad to flee fighting in the western region of Darfur.

A doctors’ group said at least 26 people were killed and 33 were wounded El-Obeid city, west of Khartoum, on Thursday. Witnesses there described clashes and widespread looting.

Guterres, speaking to reporters after meeting virtually with the heads of the African Union, the Arab League and other organizations on Thursday, said: “There was a strong consensus on condemning ongoing fighting in Sudan and calling for cessation of hostilities as an immediate priority”.

He said trapped civilians should be allowed to seek medical treatment, food and other supplies. The United States endorsed the ceasefire proposal.

Burhan told Al Jazeera he would support a truce on condition it allowed citizens to move freely - something he said the RSF had prevented. He also said he saw no partner for negotiations, and “no other option but the military solution”.

Dagalo told Al Jazeera he was ready to implement a three-day truce.

“We are talking about a humanitarian truce, we are talking about safe passages ... we are not talking about sitting down with a criminal,” Dagalo said, referring to Burhan.

Thwarted transition

Burhan accused Dagalo, until last week his deputy on the council that has ruled since a coup two years ago, of “a power grab”.

An alliance between the two men had mostly held since the overthrow of strongman Bashir, whose rule saw Sudan become an international pariah that was on the U.S. terrorism list.

The latest violence was triggered by disagreement over an internationally backed plan to form a new civilian government. Both sides accuse the other of thwarting the transition.

About 10,000 to 20,000 people have taken refuge in villages along the border inside Chad, U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) said.

Even before the conflict, about a quarter of Sudan’s people were facing acute hunger but the WFP halted its Sudan operation, one of its largest, on Saturday after three of its workers were killed.

Sudan borders seven countries and sits between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Africa’s volatile Sahel region, so the hostilities risk fanning regional tensions.

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