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UN chief demands 'justice without delay' for deaths of its staff and civilians in Sudan

The clashes capped months of heightened tensions.

LAST UPDATE | 16 Apr 2023

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL Antonio Guterres on Sunday condemned clashes in Sudan that have left dozens of civilians dead including three workers for the global body’s food agency, demanding swift justice over the killings.

Guterres “strongly condemns the deaths and injuries of civilians, including the death of three staff members of the World Food Programme in North Darfur, with a further two seriously injured,” the UN chief’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement, adding: “Those responsible should be brought to justice without delay.”

The top UN official also reiterated his call for an immediate halt to the fighting and “a return to dialogue,” stressing he remains engaged with regional leaders and with Sudanese stakeholders “to find a way out of this crisis,” Dujarric added.

“The Secretary-General reminds the parties of the need to respect international law, including the obligation to ensure the safety and security of all United Nations and associated personnel, their premises and their assets.”

Diplomatic sources told AFP that the UN Security Council is planning to discuss the situation in Sudan at a closed-door meeting on Monday.

Deadly clashes

Raging urban battles over two days between the Sudanese armed forces and a rival paramilitary, the Rapid Support Forces, have left at least 56 civilians dead and sparked regional concern, with neighbors Egypt and Chad closing their borders with Sudan.

Deafening explosions and intense gunfire shook buildings in the capital Khartoum’s northern and southern suburbs as tanks rumbled on the streets and fighter jets roared overhead, sparking international alarm.

Violence erupted early yesterday morning after weeks of deepening tensions between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, commander of the heavily-armed paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), with each accusing the other of starting the fight.

Both sides claim they control key sites.

Daglo’s RSF say they have seized the presidential place, Khartoum airport and other strategic sites, but the army insist they are in charge, with the air force late urging people yesterday evening to stay indoors as it continued air strikes targeting RSF bases.

Footage obtained by AFP showed heavy smoke billowing from a building near the army headquarters in central Khartoum.

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Created in 2013, the RSF emerged from the Janjaweed militia that then-president Omar al-Bashir unleashed against non-Arab ethnic minorities in the western Darfur region a decade earlier, drawing accusations of war crimes.

The RSF’s planned integration into the regular army was a key element of talks to finalise a deal that would return the country to civilian rule and end the political-economic crisis sparked by the military’s 2021 coup.


“The total number of deaths among civilians reached 56,” said the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, an independent pro-democracy group of medics, adding there were “tens of deaths” among security forces, but they were not included in the toll given early today.

The committee said it had counted around 600 wounded, including some among security forces, but that many casualties could not be transferred to hospitals due to difficulties in moving during the clashes.

Overnight, explosions and shots rang out throughout densely-populated areas of Khartoum.

This morning, the stench of gunpowder wafted through the streets, deserted except by soldiers as terrified civilians sheltered inside their homes.

sudan-khartoum-gunfire-smoke Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

“We had a very difficult night, and we couldn’t sleep well because of the sound of the explosions and gunfire,” said Ahmed Seif, who lives in east Khartoum with his family of five.

He said he fears his building was hit by gunfire, but said it was still too dangerous to go outside to check.

“The situation is very worrying and it doesn’t seem like it will calm anytime soon,” he added.

Fighting has also erupted outside Khartoum, including in the troubled western Darfur region.

In the eastern border state of Kassala, army fired artillery at a paramilitary camp, according witness Hussein Saleh.

International worry

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities” and spoke to both Burhan and Daglo, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the fighting “threatens the security and safety of Sudanese civilians”.

The Arab League, following a request by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is scheduled to hold an urgent meeting today to discuss the situation.

Similar appeals came from the African Union, the European Union, Russia and Iran.

But the two generals appear in no mood for talks: in an interview with UAE-based Sky News Arabia, Daglo, also known as Hemeti, said, “Burhan the criminal must surrender.”

The army, on its Facebook page, declared Daglo a “wanted criminal” and the RSF a “rebel militia”, saying there “will be no negotiations or talks until the dissolution” of the group.

The latest violence, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, came after more than 120 civilians had already been killed in a crackdown on regular pro-democracy demonstrations over the past 18 months.

The October 2021 coup triggered international aid cuts and sparked near-weekly protests, adding to the deepening troubles of one of the world’s poorest countries.

© AFP 2023

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