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Dozens killed as army, rivals battle for control of Sudan

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — The Sudanese military and a powerful paramilitary group battled for control of the chaos-stricken nation for a second day Sunday, signaling they were unwilling to end hostilities despite mounting diplomatic pressure to cease fire.

Heavy fighting involving armored vehicles, truck-mounted machine guns, and warplanes raged Sunday in the capital of Khartoum, the adjoining city of Omdurman, and in flashpoints across the country. The rival forces are believed to have tens of thousands of fighters each in the capital alone.

A doctors’ group said that at least 56 civilians were killed and that it believed there were dozens of additional deaths among the rival forces. The Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate said close to 600 people were wounded, including civilians and fighters.

The clashes capped months of heightened tensions between the military and its partner-turned-rival, the Rapid Support Forces. Those tensions had delayed a deal with political parties to get the country back to its short-lived transition to democracy, which was derailed by an October 2021 military coup.

In Khartoum and Omdurman, fighting was reported around the military headquarters, Khartoum International Airport, and state television headquarters. A senior military official said RSF fighters clashed with troops at military headquarters early Sunday and that a fire broke out at a facility for ground troops.

“The battles have not stopped,” said prominent rights advocate Tahani Abass who lives near the military headquarters. “They are shooting against each other in the streets. It’s an all-out war in residential areas.”

Abass said her family spent the night huddling on the ground floor of their home. “No one was able to sleep and the kids were crying and screaming with every explosion,” she said. Sounds of gunfire were heard while she was speaking to The Associated Press.

The military and the RSF both claimed to be in control of strategic locations in Khartoum and elsewhere in the county. Their claims couldn’t be independently verified.

Both sides signaled late Saturday that they were unwilling to negotiate.

The military, headed by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, called for dismantling the RSF, which it labeled a “rebellious militia.” The head of the RSF, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, told the satellite news network Al Arabyia that he ruled out negotiations. Dagalo called on Burhan to surrender.

Meanwhile, diplomatic pressure appeared to be mounting.

Top diplomats, including the U.S. Secretary of State, the U.N. secretary-general, the EU foreign policy chief, the head of the Arab League, and the head of the African Union Commission urged the sides to stop fighting. Members of the U.N. Security Council, at odds over other crises around the world, called for an immediate end of the hostilities and a return to dialogue.

Arab states with stakes in Sudan — Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — made similar appeals.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he consulted with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. “We agreed it was essential for the parties to immediately end hostilities without pre-condition,” he said in a statement early Sunday.

The rival forces were fighting in several locations across Sudan, including the western Darfur region where tens of thousands of people live in camps for displaced people after years of genocidal civil war.

In the province of North Darfur, dozens were killed and wounded since Saturday at a camp for displaced people, said Adam Regal, a spokesman for a Darfur charity.

In Nyala, the capital of South Darfur province, the two sides fought for control of the city’s airport, said a military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.

The official said fighting also spread to the eastern region, including the provinces of Kassala and al-Qadarif on the borders with Ethiopia and Eritrea. He said battles centered around RSF and army bases.

The Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate appealed to international humanitarian and medical organizations to support medical facilities in the country. The group also called on the international community to press both sides to ensure safe passage for ambulances and medical personnel.

The recent tensions stem from disagreement over how the RSF, headed by Dagalo, should be integrated into the armed forces and what authority should oversee the process. The merger is a key condition of Sudan’s unsigned transition agreement with political groups.

Pro-democracy activists have blamed Burhan and Dagalo for abuses against protesters across the county over the past four years, including the deadly break-up of a protest camp outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum in June 2019 that killed over 120 protesters. Many groups have repeatedly called for holding them accountable. The RSF has long been accused of atrocities linked to the Darfur conflict.

Sudan, a country at the crossroads of the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, is known for its history of military coups and civil conflicts since it gained independence in the 1950s.

The country has borders with six African nations and a strategic coastline on the Red Sea. A decade-old civil conflict resulted in the secession of South Sudan in 2011.

The clashes will increase hardship in Sudan, where the U.N. says some 16 million people — or one-third of the population — already depend on humanitarian assistance.