Sudan’s army and a paramilitary force battled in Khartoum on Thursday, testing U.S. and African efforts to pause a conflict that has turned residential areas into war zones and sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for their lives.
Hundreds of people have been killed in nearly two weeks of conflict between the army and a rival paramilitary force – the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – which are locked in a power struggle threatening to destabilise the wider region.
An RSF statement accused the army of carrying out air strikes on its forces on Thursday and spreading “false rumours”, making no reference to a proposal for peace talks which the army said came from an African regional bloc known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
An army statement said its forces had taken control of most of the country’s regions but added “the situation is a bit complicated in some parts of the capital”, noting it was in the process of defeating what it called a large deployment of RSF.
The sound of air strikes and anti-aircraft fire could be heard in the capital Khartoum and the nearby cities of Omdurman and Bahri, witnesses and Reuters journalists said.
An existing three-day ceasefire brought about a partial lull in fighting, but is due to expire at midnight (2200 GMT).
Many foreign nationals remain stuck in Sudan despite an exodus marking one of the largest such evacuations since the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from Afghanistan in 2021. Sudanese civilians, who have been struggling to find food, water and fuel, continued to flee Khartoum on Thursday.
The army late on Wednesday said its leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, had given initial approval to the IGAD plan to extend the truce for another 72 hours and to send an army envoy to the South Sudan capital, Juba, for talks.
The military said the presidents of South Sudan, Kenya and Djibouti worked on a proposal that includes extending the truce and talks between the two forces, whose conflict derailed a transition to civilian democracy after a 2021 military coup.
IGAD reaffirmed an earlier call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, de-escalation and a return to the negotiating table. A statement by the bloc made no mention of Juba talks.
Gamal Malik Ahmed Goraish, Charge d’ Affaires at Sudan’s Embassy in Juba, told Reuters it was not clear how any talks would happen or what the agenda would be.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat discussed working together to create a sustainable end to the fighting, the State Department said on Wednesday.
At least 512 people have been killed and close to 4,200 wounded by the fighting since April 15.
The crisis has sent growing numbers of refugees across Sudan’s borders. Thousands of people, mainly Sudanese, have been waiting at the border to cross north into Egypt.
Some 16,000 people have entered Egypt from Sudan including 14,000 Sudanese citizens, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said. The U.N. says some 20,000 refugees have already gone to Chad.
France said on Thursday it had evacuated more people from Sudan, including Britons, Americans, Canadians, Ethiopians, Dutch, Italians and Swedes. Britain said it might not be able to continue evacuating nationals when the ceasefire ends, and they should try to reach British flights out of Sudan immediately.
At International University of Africa in Khartoum, where thousands of students are waiting to leave, food is running out, there is no water for toilets and showers, and the power is out, said Nigerian law student Umar Yusuf Yaru, 24.
“Even as we sit here, almost everywhere you can hear gunshots. We are not safe here,” Yaru said via Zoom, as some female students could be heard crying in the background.
The conflict has limited food distribution in the vast nation, Africa’s third largest, where a third of the 46 million people were already reliant on humanitarian aid.
The Sudan Doctors’ Union said 60 out of 86 hospitals in conflict zones had stopped operating.
Much of the fighting has been focused in Khartoum, where RSF fighters have embedded themselves in residential areas, and the western province of Darfur, where conflict has simmered ever since civil war erupted there two decades ago.
Tension had been building for months between Sudan’s army and the RSF, which together toppled a civilian government in an October 2021 coup, two years after a popular uprising toppled long-ruling Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir.