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Army vs paramilitary: A common person's guide to the crisis in Sudan

Sudanese people are running out of food, fuel and other vital supplies, and the healthcare system is in danger of collapse. But what's happening in Sudan? Here's an easy guide

Photo: ANI/Twitter

Photo: ANI/Twitter

Raghav Aggarwal New Delhi
For the last few days, people in Sudan's capital Khartoum have been trapped in their homes due to a clash between the military and its rival paramilitary forces. On Wednesday, the two sides made a new attempt at a 24-hour ceasefire. They had declared a ceasefire earlier this week too, but it had fallen apart.

Reports have suggested that sporadic gunfire and explosions can be heard across the city. Residents have been attempting to migrate to other parts of the country as Khartoum is now facing shortages of food and other supplies.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that over 300 people have been killed in the past five days. But several believe the toll can be much higher and will be determined once the fighting stops.

Sudan is a country of over 46 million people in Northeastern Africa. The country is mainly dominated by Sunni Muslims, most of whom speak Arabic and identify as "Arabs". In 2011, a part of the country, now called South Sudan, disintegrated from it. Its professed religion is Christianity. Muslims are a minority in South Sudan. 

The country gained independence from the British and elected a representative parliament on January 1, 1956. Since 1989, the country was ruled by President Omar al-Bashir.

Why are the army and paramilitary fighting in Sudan?

On December 19, 2018, people in Sudan came out on the streets to protest against the country's long-serving President, al-Bashir. The civil disobedience continued for eight months. In August and September 2019, the military generals removed al-Bashir from power. They agreed to share power with civilians. 

For two years, the country was run by an uneasy alliance of the military and civilians. A Transitional Sovereignty Council was appointed, and Abdalla Hamdok became the civilian prime minister of the country.

On October 25, 2021, the country's transition towards democracy halted abruptly after Sudanese military General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan launched a military coup and took control of the government. Hamdok refused to support al-Burhan and was put under house arrest on October 26. 

The citizens of Sudan launched a civil disobedience movement and weekly demonstrations. However, this isolated the country from the outside world and deepened its economic woes.

Since then, Sudan has been ruled by a Sovereign Council headed by al-Burhan.

He drew support from a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces or RSF, led by General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo. Dagalo was also the vice president of the council. Now, RSK and Sudan's military have turned against each other. It is their forces that have been fighting, engulfing Khartoum in gunfire.

Why are al-Burhan and Dagalo fighting?

The Sovereign Council, led by al-Burhan, supports the transfer of power to civilians. They had promised to conduct the elections in the country by the end of 2023. However, both al-Burhan and Dagalo seem reluctant to give up power.

Al-Burhan wants the RSF to integrate with the regular army within two years. Dagalo, on the other hand, wants to delay the integration by ten years. RSF started deploying members around the country and in Khartoum without the army's permission.

On April 15, the RSF and Sudanese army members engaged in gunfights in the capital. Both leaders want to keep the power with them. Some experts have stated that the battle is actually between two men who are desperate not to be ejected from the corridors of power after the country's transition to full-fledged democracy.

Can the fighting escalate?

There is no easy route to a solution in Sudan. The violence is widespread. It ranges from Khartoum to the western city of Darfur. A ceasefire failed earlier this week, and both sides are trying to keep the second ceasefire announced on Wednesday.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday told media that negotiations are on with the two parties in a bid to reach an ultimate ceasefire.

"We are negotiating with both parties. We are negotiating to stop the conflict. We are on the field with our friends...We are currently meeting with the vice president. We're also meeting with the commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to stop the war," Cavusoglu said.

Cavusoglu further said they expected a ceasefire to be reached on Thursday ahead of Eid al-Fitr on Friday.

How is the situation in Sudan?

The country is in deep turmoil.

According to UN humanitarians, people are running out of food, fuel and other vital supplies, and the healthcare system is in danger of collapse.

"We desperately need a humanitarian pause so that wounded and sick civilians can reach hospitals," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said, as reported by IANS.

"People in the capital Khartoum have been unable to safely leave their homes to buy food and other essentials for days now."

OCHA reported on a severely hampered relief-response system and called for a halt to attacks against aid workers and looting of humanitarian facilities.

It said that humanitarian actors must be able to carry out their work safely, and aid agencies must be able to move staff and replenish critical supplies safely.

"We are worried that Sudan's health care system could completely collapse," the UN humanitarians said. "Hospitals need additional staff, supplies, and blood."

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First Published: Apr 20 2023 | 3:24 PM IST

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