Truce reduces fighting in Sudan, but little relief for humanitarian crisis

FILE PHOTO: Fleeing Sudanese seek refuge in Chad

By Khalid Abdelaziz and Nafisa Eltahir

DUBAI/CAIRO (Reuters) -Khartoum was calmer on Saturday as a seven-day ceasefire appeared to reduce fighting between two rival military factions although it has not yet provided the promised humanitarian relief to millions trapped in the Sudanese capital.

A truce signed on Monday by the two fighting parties - Sudan's army and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) - aimed to secure safe passage for humanitarian aid and lead to wider talks sponsored by the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The conflict, which erupted on April 15, has killed at least 730 civilians and caused 1.3 million Sudanese to leave their homes, fleeting either abroad or to safer parts of the country.

On Saturday, witnesses said that Khartoum was calmer, although sporadic clashes were reported in the afternoon and evening in the city's southern districts and across the Nile in western Omdurman, a key entrypoint to the capital.

In a statement, the RSF accused the army of violating the ceasefire and destroying the country's mint in an air strike. The army had accused the RSF on Friday of targeting the mint.

It also late on Saturday said it would engage in talks aimed at extending the ceasefire, which is due to end on Monday night.

The army said meanwhile that its call on Friday for army reservists was a partial mobilisation and constitutional measure, adding that it expected large numbers to respond to the call.

Those who remain in Khartoum are struggling with failures of services such as electricity, water and phone networks. Looters have ransacked homes, mostly in well-off neighbourhoods. Food supplies are dwindling.

On Saturday, Sudanese police said they were expanding deployment and also called in able retired officers to help.

"Our neighbourhood has become a war zone. Services have collapsed and chaos has spread in Khartoum," said 52-year-old Ahmed Salih, a resident of the city.

"No one is bothered to help the Sudanese people, neither the government nor internationally. We are humans, where is the humanity?" he added.

The UN and aid agencies say that despite the truce they have struggled to get the bureaucratic approvals and security guarantees to transport aid and staff in safer parts of the country to Khartoum and other hot zones. Warehouses have been looted.

The UN World Food Programme on Saturday tweeted that it had begun providing food aid to people in Khartoum, but added that "safety, security, and access are critical so we can increase our support to 500,000 people".


Fighting also flared in the city of Al Fashir, capital of North Darfur state which had remained calm in recent weeks after a separate local truce there.

Heavy artillery could be heard near the central market and eastern districts, forcing many residents to seek refuge elsewhere in the city, said local human rights monitor Mohamed Suleiman. Several people were injured, he said, but Reuters could not confirm the number.

Outside of Khartoum, the worst hit city is El Geneina, on the border with Chad, which has seen an onslaught of militia attacks that have destroyed its infrastructure and killed hundreds.

The governmental Combating Violence Against Women and Children Unit said late on Friday it had received reports of 25 cases of rape of women and girls in Darfur and 24 reports of rape in Khartoum since the conflict erupted.

It said that victims had described 43 of the men as wearing RSF uniforms and either riding vehicles with RSF licenses or located in RSF-controlled areas.

"The unit expresses its grave concern over reports of gang rape, kidnapping ... and reports of women and girls facing sexual assault as they go out to seek food," it said.

The RSF has denied reports that its soldiers are engaged in sexual assaults or looting.

Reuters could not independently verify the unit's allegations.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Dubai and Nafisa Eltahir and Adam Makary in Cairo, writing by Nafisa Eltahir, editing by Frances Kerry, Clelia Oziel and Chizu Nomiyama)