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Battle for key police base kills at least 14 Sudan civilians

Author: AFP | Published: Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Fighters of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) drive an armoured vehicle in southern Khartoum, on May 25, 2023 (AFP)

Sudan’s army on Monday faced a multi-front challenge after losing Khartoum’s main police base to paramilitaries in a battle that killed at least 14 civilians, while rebels attacked troops near Ethiopia.

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), fighting Sudan’s regular army since mid-April, announced late Sunday a “victory in the battle for the police HQ” of the Central Reserve Police.

Central Reserve are a paramilitary police unit sanctioned last year by Washington for “serious┬áhuman rights abuses” related to its use of “excessive force” against earlier pro-democracy protests.

“The headquarters is under our complete control… and we have seized a large number of vehicles, arms and munitions,” the RSF said in a statement.

If the RSF, led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, maintain their hold on the strategic site at the southern edge of the capital, it “would have a major impact on the battle of Khartoum”, a former army officer told AFP, requesting anonymity for safety reasons.

The army denied in a statement that the RSF had won a “military victory”, and denounced “a flagrant attack against state institutions that protect civilians.”

Troops were also battling hundreds of kilometres (miles) south in Kurmuk, near the border with Ethiopia, where residents said a rebel group attacked army positions.

The United Nations mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) expressed “grave concern” about the development. It cited reports of fighting Sunday and Monday in three Kurmuk-area villages that forced hundreds of civilians to cross into Ethiopia.

This adds to the roughly 600,000 who have already fled to neighbouring countries, according to International Organization for Migration data. Around two million people have been displaced within Sudan, it said.

The same rebel group, a faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), had opened a new front against the army last week in South Kordofan state by attacking soldiers, the army said at the time.

That faction, led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, was one of two holdout groups that refused to sign a 2020 peace deal.

Nearly 2,800 people have been killed across Sudan since a power struggle between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy Daglo erupted into war more than two months ago, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

Many bodies have been left rotting in the streets of Khartoum and in the western region of Darfur, where most of the violence has occurred.

Resident said fighting continued Monday in the area of the Central Reserve base. They said RSF shells targeting an army checkpoint wounded civilians on a bus.

On Sunday, “14 civilians including two children were killed” in the same general area, according to a network of activists who try to evacuate wounded.

The activists said 217 others were wounded, many critically, by “stray bullets, air raids or shelling” in residential neighbourhoods of Khartoum’s south.

– ‘Rockets are falling’ –

The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity reported on Monday that in the past 48 hours 150 war-wounded had been treated at Khartoum’s Turkish Hospital.

“The majority of patients are civilians — including children and the elderly,” MSF said on Twitter.

Two-thirds of Sudan’s health facilities in the main battlegrounds remain out of service, the World Health Organization has said, with some bombed and others occupied by fighters.

The few hospitals still operating are extremely low on medical supplies, struggling to obtain fuel to power generators, and understaffed.

The Central Reserve headquarters gives the RSF “control of the southern entrance to the capital”, and their presence poses “a serious threat” to the nearby headquarters of the armoured corps, a key army unit in south Khartoum, the former army officer said.

RSF lost “more than 400 men” in the Central Reserve battle, said an army source not authorised to speak to the press. RSF have not issued any casualty figures but claimed their operation against the police facility led to the killing or capture of hundreds of army-linked personnel.

Darfur, a vast western region on the border with Chad, has witnessed the deadliest violence since the war began.

In the South Darfur state capital, Nyala, at least a dozen civilians were killed on Sunday, according to a local doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Nyala residents reported intense artillery fire overnight Sunday to Monday. “Rockets are falling on civilian homes,” one told AFP.

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