Call for exit route for civilians in Sudan

Khartoum paralysed by fierce battles between the army and RSF

People gather at the station to flee from Khartoum during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum, Sudan April 19, 2023. REUTERS/
People gather at the station to flee from Khartoum during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum, Sudan April 19, 2023. REUTERS/
Image: El-Tayeb Siddig

Geneva/Khartoum The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday urged both sides of the conflict in Sudan to halt fighting to allow those injured to get medical attention and to open a humanitarian passage for health workers, patients and ambulances.

Residents of the capital Khartoum reported heavy gunfire on Thursday as many tried to flee a city that has been virtually paralysed by fierce battles between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

We call on all parties to implement a sustained humanitarian pause as soon as possible so that those trapped by the fighting can seek refuge, Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, told a virtual news conference.

He said such a humanitarian pause was essential for civilians to access food, water and medicines, and for injured people to seek medical care.

Both sides had previously said they would respect a 24-hour ceasefire that was due to come into effect at 1600 GMT on Wednesday but was quickly broken by clashes.

Mandhari said that humanitarian passage should be created to allow for health workers, patients and ambulances to move safely.

Richard Brennan, WHO emergency regional director, said medically evacuating those severely injured in Sudan was not a realistic option right now due to the grave security situation.

Its just not possible to have that kind of movement, he said. We also have very limited resources. Its very expensive to do medical evacuations. We are much better off using our limited resources to shore up the hospitals and support the medical staff in the country.

Brennan added that the WHO planned to bring more medical equipment, including emergency surgery kits, into Sudan as soon as the situation allows.

Residents of Sudans capital reported renewed heavy gunfire on Thursday as thousands tried to flee fighting that has killed scores of civilians, before the Eid holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Khartoum and its sister cities Omdurman and Bahri, one of Africas most populous urban areas, have been rocked by battles this week between the army and the paramilitary RSF. Locals and thousands of foreigners are stranded and food supplies have run short.

The thick smoke and explosions of previous days abated early on Thursday, TV feeds over Khartoum showed, before the fighting erupted once again.

Gunfire was heard in Bahri and residents reported clashes west of Omdurman where they said the army had moved to block the arrival of RSF reinforcements, as both sides violated a 24-hour ceasefire they had said they would respect from Wednesday.

The RSF issued a statement saying it came under attack in Omdurman and inflicted losses on the army in response, including shooting down two helicopters. Reuters could not independently verify the RSFs claims.

The army has artillery and fighter planes, and controls access to Khartoum. It appeared to be trying to cut supply routes to RSF fighters, residents and witnesses said.

Thousands of people have been leaving the capital with most able to pass but some stopped at checkpoints, according to residents and social media posts.

Theres no food, supermarkets are empty, the situation isn't safe, honestly, so people are leaving, said Khartoum resident who gave only his first name, Abdelmalek.

Hospitals reported bodies lying unburied and bullets crashing through windows. Residents said prices for the remaining fresh food had risen sharply.

Sudan sits strategically between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Africas volatile Sahel region, and the power struggle there risks fanning regional tensions.

The RSF has returned Egyptian troops it had captured at the northern Merowe base at the weekend, and western neighbour Chad said it had stopped and disarmed a Sudanese contingent of 320 soldiers on Monday, among thousands of refugees crossing the border from Sudans Darfur region.

Since hostilities erupted on Saturday, some of the most intense fighting has been around the compound housing the army HQ and the residence of Sudans military ruler, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Burhan accused RSF leader Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, until last week his deputy on the military council that has ruled since a coup two years ago, of  a power grab. A fragile alliance between the two men had mostly held since the ouster four years ago of veteran autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Burhan said much of the RSF was now out of control, accusing its fighters of looting and attacking foreign diplomats and aid workers.

Washington said it had preliminary indications the RSF was behind an attack on its diplomats, and witnesses say RSF gunmen have been involved in looting and attacks on aid workers.

Separately, Dagalo widely known by his nickname Hemedti told the FT the armed forces were to blame for hitting hospitals and non-military targets, as well as the attacks on diplomats and guests.

Hemedti may command more than 100,000 fighters, analysts say, in a force that emerged from the feared janjaweed militias charged with International Criminal Court (ICC) of war crimes in a brutal conflict in Darfur that escalated in 2003 and displaced more than 2-million people.

The ICC has not charged Hemedti, whose forces human rights groups say participated in a massacre of dozens of protesters in 2019. He has denied ordering the attack.

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