- Defence ministry HQ and airport focus of fighting
- At least 270 people killed, 2,600 injured – ministry
- US-brokered 24-hour ceasefire push fails
- Power struggle has dashed transition to democracy
- Japan plans evacuation of 60 citizens on military plane
- Power cuts, water and food shortages hit residents
By Khalid Abdelaziz and Nafisa Eltahir
KHARTOUM, April 19 (Reuters) – Air strikes and explosions hammered Sudan’s capital on Wednesday after the failure of a U.S.-brokered ceasefire between the army and paramilitary forces, forcing residents to stay hunkered down and prompting Japan to prepare to evacuate its citizens.
Continuous bombardments and loud blasts could be heard in central Khartoum in the area around the defence ministry compound and the airport, which has been fiercely contested and put out of action since fighting erupted at the weekend.
Thick smoke billowed into the sky.
Foreign powers including the United States have been pushing for a ceasefire between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to allow residents trapped by the fighting to obtain desperately needed relief and supplies.
At least 270 people have been killed and 2,600 injured in the fighting, the World Health Organization said, citing Sudan’s health ministry.
Both sides agreed to the ceasefire from 6.00 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) on Tuesday but firing continued unabated and the army and the RSF issued statements accusing each other of failing to respect the truce.
The army’s high command said its operations were ongoing to secure the capital and other regions.
One resident in the eastern edges of Khartoum said heavy fighting resumed early on Wednesday after air strikes and the pounding of artillery near her home on Tuesday.
“We couldn’t sleep, the only quiet was from 3 to 5 a.m.” she said.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary said authorities were planning to use a plane from its military Self-Defense Forces to evacuate about 60 Japanese citizens currently in Sudan, in coordination with other major countries.
POWER CUTS, LOOTING
Since Saturday morning, and for the first time in decades, heavy fighting has raged across Sudan’s capital, a large metropolis of around 5.5 million people, with millions more living in sister cities Omdurman and Bahri that lie across the White and Blue Niles.
The fighting has derailed the latest internationally backed plan for a transition to a civilian democracy, four years after the fall of Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir and two years after a military coup.
The violence risks drawing in actors from Sudan’s neighbourhood who have backed different factions, and could also play into competition between Russia and the United States for regional influence.
Widespread disruption of power and water supplies caused by the fighting has left residents struggling in the final days of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast between dawn and dusk, and has put most hospitals out of service.
Khartoum residents were asked to limit their electricity usage, as the state’s distribution authority said the servers that manage online purchases of power were out of service.
Engineers cannot reach the area where the servers are located because it is too dangerous, it said in a statement.
Offices and schools have been shut in Khartoum since the fighting began, there have been widespread reports of looting and assault, and long queues have been forming at bakeries that are still functioning.
“Most goods aren’t available. People are looking for things but they can’t find them,” said one resident in Bahri who gave only his first name, Mohamed.
United Nations agencies say many of their programmes across the vast country, already in a precarious humanitarian situation, have been suspended.
Ahmed Omer, a communications coordinator at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) based in Al Qadarif in eastern Sudan, said the clashes had quashed his hopes of visiting his parents in Khartoum for the end of Ramadan.
“We were all hopeful that peace was upcoming and a government would be formed,” he said. “They dashed all the dreams of Sudanese youth and the Sudanese revolution.”
The fighting, which pits Sudan’s military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against RSF chief General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, followed rising tensions over a plan for the RSF’s integration into the regular military.
Burhan heads a ruling council installed after the 2021 military coup and the 2019 ouster of Bashir, while Dagalo – better known as Hemedti – was his deputy on the ruling council.
Discord over the timetable for that process delayed the signing of the framework deal to launch a civilian transition that was due to be signed earlier this month.
Photo: A handout satellite image made available by Maxar Technologies shows a burning building near the southern end of Khartoum International Airport, in Khartoum, Sudan. EPA-EFE/MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES HANDOUT