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Sudan War: What We Know About the Conflict, and Why It Hasn’t Stopped

When rival generals transform a city of five million people into an arena for their personal war, as two of them have in Sudan, civilians pay a heavy toll.

In Khartoum, the capital, many have been trapped in their homes since violence first broke out on April 15, as fighters occupied some center city neighborhoods, firing from roofs and in between buildings at warplanes overhead. Electricity is spotty, food and water are in short supply, and looting and robbery have been reported.

Sudanese and foreigners alike have been fleeing the battle zones in droves. More than 1.4 million people have been displaced, with 360,000 of them crossing into neighboring nations like Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency. Thousands of Sudanese and citizens of other countries have fled to Port Sudan, a city on the Red Sea, hoping to escape on boats to Saudi Arabia.

As two rival generals vie for dominance, the clashes between a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Army have reordered the country with breathtaking speed.

They have also dashed hopes that Sudan — Africa’s third-largest country by area, with more than 45 million people — will be able to usher in civilian rule anytime soon.

Multiple cease-fires agreed to by both sides have been regularly violated, and fighting has continued. The United States and Saudi Arabia announced on June 1 that they had decided to suspend talks that they had been facilitating between the two sides in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, “as a result of repeated serious violations” of previous cease-fire agreements.

Here is a look at what is happening in Sudan.

Most of the fighting now appears to be taking place in Khartoum and in the western region of Darfur. The army, which has access to planes, dominates much of the country, including Port Sudan. But most of central Khartoum is controlled by fighters with the Rapid Support Forces, analysts say.

The civilian death toll from the fighting has surpassed 865, with more than 5,000 injured, according to Sudan’s ministry of health — though the actual toll is probably much higher.

In Khartoum, the fighting has left many people stranded at home without electricity or water, and doctors and hospitals say they are struggling to cope. Fighting has been reported near the presidential palace, and it was still not clear who — if anyone — was in control of the country.

Aid workers and diplomats, who were often able to stay out of the fray in past tensions in Sudan, have this time found themselves targets.

The leader of one of the two main rival factions is Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, a powerful military commander who has for years been a de facto leader of Sudan.

Little known before 2019, General al-Burhan was closely aligned with Sudan’s longtime ruler, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and rose to power in the tumultuous aftermath of the uprisings that led to the ousting of the widely despised leader.

Before that, General al-Burhan had been a regional army commander in Darfur, when 300,000 people there were killed and millions of others displaced in fighting from 2003 to 2008 that drew worldwide condemnation for its human rights violations and humanitarian toll.

After civilians and the military signed a power-sharing agreement in 2019, General al-Burhan became the chairman of the Sovereignty Council, a body created to oversee the country’s transition to democratic rule. But as the date for the handover of control to civilians approached in late 2021, he proved reluctant to relinquish power.

General al-Burhan’s main rival is Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, who leads the country’s Rapid Support Forces, a powerful paramilitary group.

Of humble origins, General Hamdan, widely known as Hemeti, rose to prominence as a commander of the notorious Janjaweed militias, which were responsible for the worst atrocities of the conflict in Darfur.

In October 2021, General al-Burhan and General Hamdan united to seize power in a military coup, making them effectively the leader and deputy leader of Sudan. But in recent months, they have fallen out, clashing in public and quietly deploying extra troops and equipment to military camps in Khartoum and across the country.

Sudan sits in a pivotal position on the African continent, with a substantial coastline on the Red Sea and surrounded by seven countries — the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya and South Sudan — many also threatened by instability.

There are fears that the new chaos could draw in those neighboring countries.

Already, the violence has spread deep into Darfur, a region that for 20 years has been tormented by its own cycle of conflict. Darfur is home to several rebel groups that could get sucked into the fight, and it has been a base for Russia’s Wagner, the private military company. Wagner has advised the Sudanese government and received access to lucrative gold mining operations. Russia has sought to allow its warships to dock on Sudan’s Red Sea coastline.

As Sudan appeared to inch from decades of isolation toward democracy in recent years, the United States lifted Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

In recent months, a host of foreign officials from the United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union, as well as the United States, had tried to negotiate an agreement between the two generals and pressed them to allow a transition to a civilian-led government.

But the two generals could not agree on how quickly the Rapid Support Forces would be absorbed into the army. Instead, they took their troops to war against each other.

Charlie Savage, Declan Walsh and Abdi Latif Dahir contributed reporting.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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