‘Where is the state?’: Mass looting engulfs Sudanese capital

Khartoum residents say law and order has collapsed and Army accuses RSF forces of looting, though RSF denies charge

May 19, 2023 04:15 pm | Updated 06:18 pm IST - DUBAI

RSF fighters stand near the damaged Air Defence Forces command centre in Khartoum, Sudan May 17, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video.

RSF fighters stand near the damaged Air Defence Forces command centre in Khartoum, Sudan May 17, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Witnesses said that mass looting by armed men and civilians is making life an even greater misery for Khartoum residents trapped by fierce fighting between Sudan’s Army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

While the RSF dominates the capital on the ground and the Army conducts frequent airstrikes, the witnesses said police had vanished from the streets when the fighting started in Khartoum on April 15.

“Nobody protects us. No police. No state. The criminals are attacking our houses and taking everything we own,” said Sarah Abdelazim, 35, a government employee.

As mayhem grips Khartoum, the Army accuses the RSF of looting banks, gold markets, homes and vehicles. The RSF denies the charge and has released videos of its men arresting looters. The paramilitary force says some people wear RSF uniforms and steal to make them look bad.

Some witnesses said the RSF stole vehicles and set up camps in people’s houses. The RSF denies this claim.

More than 17,000 men jailed in Sudan’s two most dangerous prisons — Kobar and Al Huda — were released early in the fighting. Both sides blame the other for the prison break.

‘The devil’s city’

“We are now living in the devil’s city. People are looting everything, and neither the army nor the RSF, nor the police, none of them want to protect ordinary people. Where is the state?” said Mohamed Saleh, 39, a primary school teacher.

The fighting erupted after disputes over plans for the RSF to join the Army and the chain of command as part of a political transition. It has caused some 200,000 to flee to nearby countries, and over 700,000 have been displaced inside Sudan, triggering a humanitarian crisis that threatens to destabilise the region.

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Intense battles have continued to rage in Khartoum and its sister cities of Bahri and Omdurman despite Saudi and U.S.-brokered talks between the army and the RSF in Jeddah to secure humanitarian access and a ceasefire.

Most attention is focused on the battles, not the chaos demoralising the population or the rapidly depleting supplies of food, cash, and other essentials that drive much of the looting.

Huge groups have been looting mobile phones, gold, and clothes stores.

Factories, including a wheat mill belonging to DAL Group, the country’s largest conglomerate, were looted in Sudan’s central industrial zone, which contains vital food and industrial manufacturers.

“They were brandishing machetes; they wave them in the air,” said Qassim Mahmoud, a bank general manager who passed through the zone as he fled Khartoum for Egypt and saw people carrying away sacks of wheat and large appliances.

Three commodities and storage facilities were burned down in Omdurman. On May 18, people could be seen in a video stealing mattresses and clothes and loading them onto trucks. Others used donkey carts.

“Yesterday thieves came and burgled my house in Omdurman. Who do I complain to,” said Ahmed Zahar, 42, a trader.

Many Khartoum residents have put posts on social media seeking assistance in retrieving stolen cars.

A Reuters witness said that at one bank where money had already been looted, people were also seizing televisions and furniture.

The looters have also targeted aid warehouses.

Medical aid agency MSF, one of few entities continuing to provide aid in Khartoum, said armed men had broken into its warehouse in Khartoum on May 16 and taken two cars filled with supplies.

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