Sudan: Hundreds of thousands flee as RSF 'capture' Wad Madani, raising fears of partition
The strategic Sudanese city of Wad Madani, 135 kilometres southeast of the capital Khartoum, appeared on Tuesday to have fallen to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who have been fighting the Sudanese army for months.
The city had been a haven for hundreds of thousands of displaced people but the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Monday that as many as 300,000 of them have fled. Key humanitarian groups say they have been forced to suspend work in Wad Madani or leave.
General Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, the leader of the RSF, announced on Tuesday that his forces had taken the city, while the Sudanese army said that its forces had withdrawn, adding that it was investigating why this had happened.
Videos posted by the RSF showed fighters in pick-up trucks driving along streets in Wad Madani and over a bridge across the Blue Nile that it had been fighting over with the army. Witnesses said they also raided nearby villages.
Since the start of the conflict, the city had been governed by the army, headed by General Abdel Fattah Burhan, and was a key hub for humanitarian organizations largely removed from the front lines of the fighting.
The military didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The army and RSF have been fighting for control of Sudan since April, when tensions boiled over into street battles concentrated in the capital but also occurring in other areas including the western Darfur region.
Over the past two months, the RSF has appeared to take the upper hand, with its fighters making advances eastwards across Sudan's central belt.
There are increasing fears that Sudan faces de facto partition as the conflict drags on and the RSF asserts its control over Darfur and other areas of the country.
The conflict began encroaching on Wad Madani early this month as RSF troops advanced. The Red Cross spokesperson for Africa, Alyona Synenko, told The Associated Press that fighting intensified in the vicinity of the city on Friday, prompting the aid group to withdraw its staff.
Gasin Amin Oshi, who has close relatives in the city, said the RSF entered on Monday. Speaking by phone from Dubai, he said his family fled the city hours later.
Before the conflict, the city was home to several hundred thousand people.
According to the United Nations humanitarian office, at least 250,000 people have recently fled Jazira state, of which Wad Medani is the capital.
#Sudan 🇸🇩 BREAKING: #RSF militants have entered the city of #WadMadani following a brief withdrawal yesterday. Reports are already coming in that the genocidal gunmen have started looting homes.— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) December 18, 2023
Source: https://t.co/dT5fGQr064 pic.twitter.com/P7ka4cIIQm
"Aid organizations have been forced to temporarily suspend operations because of the fighting," spokesman Jens Laerke told a UN briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
The global charity Islamic Relief said that its female staff in particular had had to leave.
"We’ve had to suspend our programmes and evacuate some of our staff – especially female staff, as we feared for their safety in the city as sexual violence increases," its Sudan director Elsadig Elnour said.
The eight-month conflict has killed up to 9,000, according to the UN, but local doctors groups and activists say the death toll is likely far higher.
(AP, Reuters, and the New Arab Staff)