Sudan ‘fragile’ as clashes break out between army and paramilitary group

All flights into and out of Sudan’s Khartoum Airport were canceled on Saturday and the United States, the UK and other foreign embassies have ordered their citizens in the country to take shelter and stay home as fighting between the national army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces rages in the capital.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday the situation was “fragile”.

Sudan’s main paramilitary group and the regular armed forces exchanged gunfire in Khartoum and elsewhere in the country on Saturday in an apparent struggle for control.

Khartoum residents were taken by surprise on Saturday when fighting erupted across the city. Travelers at Khartoum Airport were also caught off guard when a Sudanese paramilitary force attempted to seize control of the facility, forcing passengers to take cover on the floor and seek safety behind their luggage.

“I was sitting inside the departure terminal when vehicles belonging to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) stormed the airport’s grounds and clashes broke out between them and soldiers based at the airport,” Ahmed Abdul-Rahman, a Sudanese traveler told Middle East Eye.

“The fighting was very intense, first with light weapons then artillery was used. I saw some civilians randomly shot, then all of the civilians rushed to escape.”

The clashes broke out in the capital and in other parts of the country in what appeared to be an attempt by paramilitary group the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to wrest contol of several strategic facilities from Sudan’s military – including the airport and the presidential palace.

The RSF claimed during the course of the day that it had seized control of the presidential palace, the army chief’s home, the Khartoum airport and another airport in the northern city of Merowe.

Sudan’s army later rejected these allegations and according to army chief General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan: “We think if they are wise they will turn back their troops that came into Khartoum. But if it continues we will have to deploy troops into Khartoum from other areas.”

The RSF leader, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, called Burhan a “criminal” and a “liar” and said in an interview with Al Jazeera: “We know where you are hiding and we will get to you and hand you over to justice, or you die just like any other dog.”

The latest bout of violence follows rising tension between the army and the RSF over the RSF’s integration into the military. The disagreement has delayed the signing of an internationally backed agreement with political parties on a transition to democracy.

Civilian forces that signed a draft version of that agreement in December called on Saturday for an immediate halt to hostilities by both the army and the RSF, to stop Sudan sliding towards “the precipice of total collapse”.

“This is a pivotal moment in the history of our country,” they said in a statement. “This is a war that no one will win, and that will destroy our country forever.”

On Saturday evening reports emerged of clashes taking place at the headquarters of Sudan’s state TV. The Sudanese armed forces spokesperson told Mubasher television station that the army would respond to any “irresponsible” actions.

The rift between the forces came to the surface on Thursday when the army said recent movements by the RSF, particularly in Merowe, were illegal.