Violent bloodshed erupted in Sudan on April 15 after weeks of power struggles between Sudanese Army Commander-in-Chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Force (RSF). According to medics, the conflict between the army and the RSF has killed over 200 civilians and 45 soldiers in the first three days alone, with 1,800 wounded. This was due to airstrikes and clashes in the capital Khartoum and the unrest that swept through the country. UN head Antonio Guterres condemned the outbreak of fighting and called for a restoration of calm, saying that the already dangerous humanitarian situation in Sudan has now become catastrophic.
So far, there are no signs that either side is ready to give up. Although the army has more air power, RSF forces are widely deployed around Khartoum and other cities, making it difficult for both sides to win quickly. In Darfur, active fighting continues unabated, according to residents. “It’s calmer than yesterday but there was heavy shelling in the morning,” said Mohamed, a doctor in Al-Fashir in North Darfur. Meanwhile, fighting between the parties in Darfur has threatened to reignite conflict in the western region, which has suffered from years of bloody war since 2003, killing up to 300,000 people and displacing 2.7 million.
The World Health Organization has already warned that several of the nine hospitals in Khartoum that receive wounded civilians have “run out of blood, transfusion equipment, intravenous fluids and other vital supplies.” In the western region of Darfur, “Médecins Sans Frontières” (MSF), an international medical aid organization, reported receiving 136 wounded patients at the only hospital in Al-Fashir, still operating in North Darfur state. “The majority of the wounded are civilians who were caught in the crossfire — among them are many children,” MSF’s Cyrus Paye says. Due to limited surgical capacity, “11 people died from their injuries in the first 48 hours of the conflict.” Three UN World Food Program workers were also among those killed on April 15 in Darfur, where medicine and other supplies were looted from humanitarian missions, according to Save the Children and MSF. A number of organizations have temporarily suspended operations in the country, where a third of the population is in need of aid.
It should be noted that the army’s commander-in-chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, heads the ruling council established after the 2021 coup and the overthrow of veteran leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019 during mass protests. RSF leader General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, is his deputy. Under the internationally-backed Transition Plan, the RSF was soon to merge with the army. Al-Burhan ordered the group to be disbanded on April 17 as both sides exchanged bitter accusations.
In comments to Sky News, al-Burhan said that he was safe in the presidential guest house at the Defense Ministry compound. He expressed that his goal was to defeat RSF, but did not rule out any form of negotiation. “Any war ends at the negotiating table, even if the enemy is defeated,” the general stated. RSF leader Hemedti, whose whereabouts have been unknown since April 15, called on the international community to take action against what he called “the crimes of al-Burhan.” On social media, Dagalo called on the international community to intervene against al-Burhan, calling him a “radical Islamist who bombs civilians from the air.” “We will continue to pursue al-Burhan and bring him to justice,” said Dagalo, whose RSF and its predecessor Janjaweed in Darfur have previously been accused of atrocities and war crimes. Army statements call the RSF “a rebel militia” intent on “engaging near populated areas.”
Continued violence could, and most likely will, destabilize this unstable region and lead to a rivalry for influence between the Great Powers, which have an interest in the rich natural resources of Sudan. A rivalry will also undoubtedly develop between the regional powers, which are “cajoling” the various military and political actors in Sudan. Egypt, long wary of political change in Khartoum, is the most important supporter of Sudan’s armed forces. Hemedti, for his part, has managed to establish ties with several foreign powers, which, of course, will get involved in the fight for Sudan.
The outbreak of fighting last weekend followed growing tensions over the integration of the RSF into the armed forces. Disagreements over the timing of the process have delayed the signing of a framework agreement to begin civilian transformation, which was due to be signed earlier this month. This comes four years after al-Bashir’s ouster and nearly two years after the military coup. But it was only an excuse, as tensions had been brewing for weeks between two of Sudan’s most powerful generals, who had jointly staged a military coup just 18 months earlier to derail the country’s transition to democracy.
Over the weekend, tensions between General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the paramilitary group RSF, erupted into an unprecedented battle for control of the resource-rich country of more than 46 million people. The two generals, each with tens of thousands of troops deployed in the capital Khartoum alone, have vowed not to negotiate or cease fire despite mounting global diplomatic pressure. This is a deadly setback for a country at the crossroads of the Arab world and Africa, which ended the rule of a longtime dictator four years ago thanks in part to largely peaceful popular protests.
Of course, the fierce fighting did not arise out of nothing, and then the legitimate question arises – what preceded the fighting? In recent months there have been negotiations for a return to a democratic transition, which was halted by a military coup in October 2021. Under growing international and regional pressure, the military and RSF signed a preliminary agreement in December with democratic and civilian groups. But the internationally brokered agreement contained only broad outlines, leaving the most pressing political issues unresolved.
During the difficult negotiations to reach a final agreement, tensions rose between al-Burhan and Dagalo. The key dispute is how the RSF will be integrated into the military and who will have ultimate control over the fighters and weapons. Dagalo, whose RSF has been involved in violent repression during tribal unrest and pro-democracy protests, has also tried to make himself look like a supporter of the democratic transition. In March, he openly told Al-Burhan that he did not want to cede power. Analysts argued that Dagalo was thereby trying to whitewash the reputation of his paramilitary force, which began as a brutal militia implicated in atrocities in the Darfur conflict.
Are there ANY PROSPECTS FOR AN IMMEDIATE CEASEFIRE AND A RETURN TO DIALOGUE? The prospect of an immediate ceasefire seems elusive. Al-Burhan and Dagalo have so far stubbornly held their ground, demanding that the other surrender. The tense nature of the fighting may also make it difficult for the two generals to return to negotiations. On the other hand, both the military and the RSF have foreign supporters who have unanimously called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. The Muslim religious calendar could also play a role. The fighting broke out during the last week of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday marks the end of the month of fasting. The population is experiencing increasing shortages of basic necessities, with many forced to return home because of the violence.
Meanwhile, there was a flurry of diplomatic contacts to bring Sudanese society and the population back to peace and organize a negotiation process between the generals. In a telephone conversation, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir said they were ready to mediate between the Sudanese parties amid ongoing clashes between the Sudanese armed forces and the paramilitary RSF. The two leaders discussed recent events in Sudan, “in light of the historical ties and outstanding fraternal relations between the three countries,” and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, according to a statement by presidential spokesman Ahmed Fahmy. The two leaders warned that “an escalation of violence will only lead to a further deterioration of the situation, which could spiral out of control,” the statement said. They also called on all sides to prioritize wisdom and peaceful dialogue and to uphold the supreme interests of the Sudanese people, Fahmy said.
In any case, there is no doubt that the fighting that has erupted in Sudan must be immediately resolved at the negotiating table. And in this case, the idea proposed by Russia and Vladimir Putin of establishing a multipolar world is like nothing else suited to resolving the Sudanese conflict. For the basic idea of a multipolar world is the resolution of any conflict only peacefully at the negotiating table, taking into account the interests of all parties and countries.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.”