KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- Sudanese in the capital of Khartoum and the neighboring city of Omdurman reported sporadic clashes early Wednesday between the military and a rival paramilitary force but said the intensity of fighting had dwindled on the second day of a three-day truce.
Many residents of the capital emerged from their homes to seek food and water, lining up at bakeries or grocery stores, witnesses said. Some inspected shops or homes that had been destroyed or looted during the fighting. Others joined the tens of thousands who have been streaming out of the city in recent days.
"There is a sense of calm in my area and neighborhoods," said Mahasen Ali, a tea vendor who lives in Khartoum's southern neighborhood of May. "But all are afraid of what's next." She said that despite the relative lull, the sound of gunfire and explosions could still be heard in the city.
Clashes were centered in more limited pockets of Khartoum and Omdurman, residents said, mainly around the military's headquarters and the Republican Palace, the seat of power. An exchange of fire rattled the upscale Kafouri neighbhorhood, where many fighters from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces are deployed.
Also on Wednesday, the military said Sudan's former autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir was being held in a military-run hospital, giving its first official statement on his location since the fighting erupted. An attack on the prison where al-Bashir and many of his former officials had been held, raised questions over his whereabout and allegations he was freed.
In a statement, the military said al-Bashir, former Defense Minister Abdel-Rahim Muhammad Hussein and other former officials had been moved to the military-run Aliyaa hospital before clashes broke out across the country. Al-Bashir was ousted in 2019 amid a popular uprising. Both al-Bashir and Hussien are wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes related to Darfur conflict.
The relative reduction of fighting Wednesday was a rare moment of easing for the millions of Sudanese who have been caught in the crossfire ever since the forces of the country's two top generals went to war with each other on April 15. The fighting has pushed the population to a near breaking point, with food growing more difficult to obtain, electricity cut off across much of the capital and other cities and many hospitals shut down.
In a country where a third of the population of 46 million already needed humanitarian assistance, multiple aid agencies have had to suspend operations. The U.N. refugee agency said it was gearing up for potentially tens of thousands of people fleeing into neighboring countries.
Still, it was not clear how long the relative calm would last. A series of short cease-fires the past week have either failed outright or brought only intermittent lulls, enough for dramatic evacuations of hundreds of foreigners by air and land. The two generals, army chief Abdel Fattah Burhan and RSF commander Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, have so far ignored calls for negotiations to end the crisis and have seemed determined to crush each other.
At least 459 people, including civilians and fighters, have been killed, and over 4,000 wounded since fighting began, the U.N. health agency said, citing Sudan's Health Ministry. The Doctors' Syndicate which which tracks civilian casualties, said at least 295 civilians were killed and 1,790 others injured.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that their power struggle is not only putting Sudan's future at risk, "it is lighting a fuse that could detonate across borders, causing immense suffering for years, and setting development back by decades."
Guterres cited reports of armed clashes across the country, with people fleeing their homes in Blue Nile and North Kordofan states and across Western Darfur as well. Joyce Msuya, the assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the Security Council "there have been numerous reports of sexual and gender-based violence."
Msuya said the U.N. has received reports "of tens of thousands of people arriving in the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan."
The 72-hour cease-fire announced by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to last until late Thursday night. Many fear that fighting will only escalate once evacuations of foreigners, which appeared to be in their last stages, are completed.
Bus stations in the capital have been packed with people camping out, waiting for a spot on a bus. Drivers increased prices, sometimes tenfold, for routes to the border crossing with Egypt or the eastern Red Sea city of Port Sudan. Fuel prices have skyrocketed. Tens of thousands more have fled to calmer provinces near Khartoum.
At the Arqin border crossing into Egypt, crowds of people waiting to get through spent the night in the open desert. "The crossing point is overwhelmed and authorities on both sides don't have the capacity to handle such a growing number of arrivals," said Moaz al-Ser, a teacher waiting at the crossing with his wife and three children.
In the capital, Dr. Bushra Ibnauf Sulieman, a Sudanese-American physician who headed the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Khartoum, was stabbed to death outside his home, the Doctors' Syndicate said. He had practiced medicine for many years in the United States, where his children reside, but had returned to Sudan to train doctors.
The World Health Organization, meanwhile, expressed concern that one of the warring parties had seized control of the central public health laboratory in Khartoum, where samples of polio, measles and cholera are stored. Dr. Nima Saeed Abid, the WHO representative in Sudan warned that after staff was expelled and power cut, it was not possible to properly manage the biological materials.
Burhan and Dagalo rose to power after a popular uprising in 2019 prompted the generals to remove Sudan's longtime autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir. Sudanese since have been trying to bring a transition to democratic rule, but in 2021 Burhan and Dagalo joined forces in a coup that purged a transitional government.
They fell out now amid tensions over a new rough plan to re-introduce civilian rule. Both the military and the RSF have a long history of brutalizing activists and protesters as well as other rights abuses.