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Sudan army calls on ex-soldiers to re-enlist, sporadic fighting persists

By Nafisa Eltahir and Khalid Abdelaziz

CAIRO/DUBAI (Reuters) - Sudan's army called on Friday for reservists and retired soldiers to re-enlist amid a deadly conflict with a rival paramilitary and asked the United Nations to change its envoy to the country.

The call to former soldiers to present themselves at their nearest military base looked aimed at strengthening the army in its battle with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary, but may add fuel to the conflict days into a truce.

Sporadic fighting has continued all week, though the ceasefire monitors Saudi Arabia and the United States said earlier on Friday that compliance was improving, but the army moves may indicate it is gearing up for a long conflict.

An army spokesperson said enlistment would be voluntary. Sudan's existing armed forces law says, however, that retired soldiers remain as reservists, eligible for compulsory re-enlistment. That does not include those who only did Sudan's mandatory two-year military service.

Army leader Abdel-Fatteh al-Burhan wrote to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday asking him to replace his envoy Volker Perthes, sources in the Sudanese presidency said.

The sources did not give details but Perthes, who was appointed in 2021, had pushed a political transition to civilian rule that some in the army opposed.

"The Secretary-General is shocked by the letter," U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Friday. "The Secretary-General is proud of the work done by Volker Perthes and reaffirms his full confidence in his Special Representative."

Army sources said the military had also intercepted weapons smuggled into a Red Sea province of Sudan by a foreign country, without giving details.

The army and RSF began a seven-day truce on Monday intended to allow access to aid and services after battles since mid-April that have killed hundreds and created a refugee crisis.

Despite a drop in fighting, there have still been reports throughout the week of clashes, artillery fire and air strikes.

Saudi and U.S. representatives "cautioned the parties against further violations and implored them to improve respect for the ceasefire on May 25, which they did," it added.

Residents of Khartoum who have stayed in the city suffer from breakdowns of electricity, water, health and communication services.

Many homes, particularly in well-off areas, have been looted, along with food stores, flour mills and other essential facilities.

"It's all part of the chaos of this war," said Taysir Abdelrahim, who found out from abroad her home was looted. "Even if we were in Sudan there's nothing you can do about it."

One organisation helping children with cancer said a guesthouse it operates had been raided, including its safe and patients' rooms. The children had been previously transferred.

AID DELAYS

The RSF has denied looting, blaming people who have stolen its uniforms. Its fighters are largely bunkered down in Khartoum neighbourhoods, while the army relies on air power.

It is unclear if either side has gained an edge.

Some 1.3 million people have fled their homes, either across borders or within the vast nation.

The Health Ministry has said at least 730 people have died, though the true figure is likely much higher.

With half of Sudan's roughly 49 million people in need of aid, the U.S. Agency for International Development said grain to feed 2 million for a month was being sent by ship.

However, it is unclear how that and other aid will reach Sudanese without security guarantees and bureaucratic approvals.

"We are in a race against time to get aid to millions of people before the rainy season arrives in June," said Islamic Relief programme manager Eltahir Imam.

The Saudi-U.S. statement said some aid had been delivered to Khartoum on Friday, without giving details. The Red Cross has said it managed to deliver supplies to seven hospitals.

Fighting has flared in several major cities of west Sudan in recent days, according to human rights monitors living in the area, most recently overnight in El Fashir, capital of North Darfur state.

Zalingei and El Geneina have had a communications blackout amid militia attacks. Residents of Nyala said calm had returned after days of fighting, although water was still cut off.

(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir, Khalid Abdelaziz, and Adam Makary, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; Writing by Clauda Tanios, Nafisa Eltahir and Angus McDowall; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Frances Kerry and Grant McCool)