As Battle for Sudan Continues, Civilian Deaths Top 400

CAIRO (AP) -- Gunfire and heavy artillery fire persisted Saturday in parts of Sudan's capital Khartoum, residents said, despite the extension of a cease-fire between the country's two top generals, whose battle for power has killed hundreds and sent thousands fleeing for their lives.

The civilian death toll jumped Saturday to 411 people, according to the Sudan Doctors' Syndicate, which monitors casualties. The fighting has wounded another 2,023 civilians so far, the group added. In the city of Genena, the provincial capital of war-ravaged West Darfur, intensified violence has killed 89 people. Fighters have moved into homes and taken over stores and hospitals as they battle in the densely populated streets, the syndicate said.

Khartoum, a city of some 5 million people, has been transformed into a front line in the grinding conflict between Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, the commander of Sudan's military, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, which has dashed once-euphoric hopes of Sudan's democratic transition.

Foreign countries continued to evacuate diplomatic staff and nationals while thousands of Sudanese fled across borders. Britain said it was ending its evacuation flights Saturday, after demand for spots on the planes had declined.

Over 50,000 refugees -- mostly women and children -- have crossed over the western border to Chad, Egypt, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, the United Nations said, raising fears of wider instability. Ethnic fighting and turmoil has scarred South Sudan and the Central African Republic while Chad's own democratic transition has stalled after a coup.

Those who escape Khartoum face more obstacles on their way to safety. The overland journey to Port Sudan, where ships then evacuate people via the Red Sea, has proven long and risky. Hatim el-Madani, a former journalist, said that paramilitary fighters were refugees at roadblocks out of the capital, demanding they hand over their phones and valuables. stopping

"There's an outlaw, bandit-like nature to the RSF militia," he said, referring to the Rapid Support Forces. "It indicates they don't have a supply line in place and that could get worse in the coming days."

Airlifts from the country have also posed challenges, with a Turkish evacuation plane hit by gunfire outside Khartoum on Friday.

On Saturday -- despite a cease-fire extended under heavy international pressure by 72 hours early Friday -- clashes continued around the presidential palace, headquarters of the state broadcaster and a military base in Khartoum, residents said. The battles sent thick columns of black smoke billowing over the city skyline.

In a few areas near the capital, including in Omdurman, residents reported that some shops were reopening as the scale of fighting dwindled amid the tenuous cease-fire. But in other areas, residents sheltering at home as explosions thundered around them said fighters were going from house to house, terrifying people and stealing whatever they could find.

Now in its third week, the fighting has left swaths of Khartoum without electricity and running water. The Sudanese Health Ministry put the latest overall death toll at 528, with 4,500 wounded.

Those sheltering at home say they're running out of food and basic supplies. Residents on Saturday in the city of Omdurman, west of Khartoum, said they'd been waiting three days to get fuel -- complicating their escape plans.

The U.N. relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that U.N. offices in Khartoum, as well as the cities of Genena and Nyala in Darfur had been attacked and looted. "This is unacceptable -- and prohibited under international law," he said.

Genena's main hospital was also leveled in the fighting, said Sudan's health ministry.

Over the past 15 days of pummeling each other, the generals have each failed to deal a decisive blow to the other in their struggle for control of Africa's third largest nation. The military has appeared to have the upper hand in the fighting, with its monopoly on air power, but it has been impossible to confirm its claims of advances.

"Soon, the Sudanese state with its well-grounded institutions will rise as victorious, and attempts to hijack our country will be aborted forever," the Sudanese military said Saturday.

Both sides in the conflict have a long history of human rights abuses. The RSF was born out of the Janjaweed militias, which were accused of widespread atrocities when the government deployed them to put down a rebellion in Sudan's western Darfur region in the early 2000s.

A unit of Sudan's armed forces, known as the Central Reserve Police, have also been sanctioned by the U.S. for grave human rights violations against Sudan's pro-democracy protesters.

Accusations of rape, torture and other abuses against demonstrators carried out by the unit first surfaced in 2021, after Burhan and Dagalo joined forces in a military coup that ousted a civilian government. The Sudanese Interior Ministry confirmed the deployment of the widely criticized Central Reserve Police in Khartoum on Saturday, posting photos of the fighters riding with heavy machine guns mounted on pickup trucks.

Former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was ousted in the 2021 coup, appealed to the international community from a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, to push for an immediate halt to the conflict. He warned that a full-blown civil war in the strategically located country would have consequences not just in Sudan but for the world.

"God forbid if Sudan is to reach a proper civil war ... it is a huge country and very diverse ... it would be a nightmare for the world," he said.

But the generals have so far rejected attempts at a compromise, and regional mediators have been unable to travel to Khartoum because of the chaotic fighting.

Still, African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki said he would help initiate a "Sudanese-led" political process and try to send peacekeepers to the country.

"I'm ready myself to go there, even by road," Faki said. "We ask the two generals to create the conditions for us to go to Khartoum."