Sudan: Thousands flee 'bodies on the streets' in battle-scarred Khartoum
Thousands of residents on Wednesday fled Sudan's capital where witnesses reported bodies in the street from fighting between the army and paramilitaries that embassies said killed more than 270 civilians and showed no sign of ending after five days.
"Life in Khartoum is impossible if this war does not stop," said Alawya al-Tayeb, 33, on her way out of the capital.
"I tried to make children not see the slain bodies on the streets," she said, adding that her youngsters are suffering from trauma and will need treatment.
The Rapid Support Forces paramilitaries said they would "fully commit to a complete ceasefire" from 1600 GMT for 24 hours, as did the army.
But at the appointed time, shots were still heard throughout Khartoum, according to witnesses.
It was the second day in a row a proposed humanitarian ceasefire failed to take hold, with both the army and the RSF blaming each other Tuesday for breaking a South Sudan-brokered truce.
Foreign diplomats have been attacked, and United Nations emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths said the UN had received "reports of attacks and sexual violence against aid workers".
Governments started planning to evacuate their citizens, among them many UN staff.
The violence erupted on Saturday between the forces of the two generals who seized power in a 2021 coup: army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo who commands the RSF.
It followed a bitter dispute between them over the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army - a key condition for a final deal aimed at restoring Sudan's democratic transition.
Heavy gunfire resounded and deafening explosions rattled buildings in Khartoum -- a city of five million people - as plumes of thick black smoke rose from buildings around the army headquarters.
RSF fighters atop armoured vehicles and pickup trucks laden with weapons swarmed the streets. Fighter jets roared overhead and fired on RSF targets, the witnesses said.
Battles have damaged residential and commercial buildings, and civilians sheltering in their homes are becoming increasingly desperate, with dwindling food supplies, power outages, and a lack of running water.
"Neither side seems to be winning at the moment, and given the intensity of the violence, things could get even worse before the two generals come to the negotiating table," according to Clement Deshayes, a Sudan specialist at Paris's Sorbonne University.
Thousands have taken matters into their own hands and, according to witnesses, began leaving Khartoum by car or on foot.
They said the air was filled with the stench of dead bodies littering the streets.
"We are now on our way to Madani to stay with our relatives after my family and kids lived through the terror of explosions," said Mohamed Saleh, 43, a government employee.
"We were very worried fighters would start storming homes."
Both forces must "refrain from unlawfully evicting people from their homes", during fighting that is "recklessly endangering the Sudanese people, diplomats and humanitarian aid workers", the US embassy wrote in a statement signed by 14 other diplomatic missions in Sudan.
The army said the central bank of the impoverished country had been looted and "huge sums of money" stolen by the RSF, which blamed army soldiers for "attacking homes of families".
#Sudan 🇸🇩: a ceasefire is suppose to be in place in the capital yet heavy fighting continues to take place in the center of #Khartoum.#SAF forces are reported to have retaken the General Command headquarters. pic.twitter.com/xPGgqAQ6AX— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) April 19, 2023
"The toll has been high, with initial estimated civilian deaths of more than 270," according to the embassies.
The real toll is thought to be much more, with many wounded unable to reach hospitals which are themselves being shelled, according to the official doctors' union.
Out of 59 main hospitals in Khartoum, about 39 are "out of service", said the union which reported "severe shortages" in remaining facilities.
Japan said its defence ministry had begun the "necessary preparations" to evacuate around 60 of its nationals, including embassy staff.
Berlin aborted on Wednesday an evacuation attempt involving three military transport planes, which would have carried 150 citizens, according to German weekly Der Spiegel.
The US embassy in Khartoum said it started gathering citizens' personal details but tweeted: "Due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and closure of the airport, there are no plans for (a) US government-coordinated evacuation."
A US diplomatic convoy was fired upon earlier, the European Union's ambassador was attacked at home and a Belgian humanitarian official with the EU was hospitalised after being shot.
RSF said it has transported to Khartoum a group of Egyptian soldiers it reported capturing in the northern city of Meroe on Saturday.
In a statement, it vowed to hand them back to Egypt "whenever there is a chance."
Army chief Burhan counts on support from Egypt, which according to experts unequivocally favours the military establishment.
The defence minister in Chad, which borders Sudan's Darfur region, said around 320 Sudanese soldiers had fled over the border in fear of the RSF, which was created in 2013 by longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
Burhan and Daglo toppled Bashir together in April 2019 following mass protests against his three decades of iron-fisted rule.
In October 2021 the pair led the coup against the civilian government installed following Bashir's ouster, derailing an internationally backed transition.
Burhan, who rose the through ranks under Bashir, has maintained his coup was "necessary" to bring more factions into politics.
But Daglo, who rose to prominence during the Bashir government's scorched-earth policy against Darfuri rebels, has since called the coup a "mistake" that failed to bring about change and invigorated Bashir's remnants.