Sudan’s army suspended talks with a rival paramilitary force on Wednesday over a ceasefire and aid access, a Sudanese diplomatic source said, raising fears the six-week-old conflict will push Africa’s third-largest nation deeper into a humanitarian crisis.
The negotiations with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which began in early May, had produced a declaration of commitments to protect civilians and two short-term ceasefire deals, although those deals were repeatedly violated.
Residents had reported heavy clashes in southern Khartoum and in Omdurman across the River Nile until late on Tuesday.
The army, which relies on airpower and artillery, and the RSF, a more lightly armed force but a tough adversary in Khartoum street battles, had agreed to extend a week-long ceasefire deal by five days just before its Monday expiry.
Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, a career military officer, and RSF General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a former militia commander known as Hemedti, have been locked in a battle for power since April 15. Neither side seems to have an edge.
“We do not want to use lethal force. We still haven’t used our maximum strength … We don’t want to destroy the country,” Burhan said in a military video released on Tuesday, speaking to cheering forces at a military base with a gun slung on his back
“But if the enemy does not obey and does not respond we will be forced to use the strongest force we have,” he said.
The RSF said in a statement late on Tuesday it was committed to the ceasefire “despite repeated violations” by the army.
Sudan has a history of political upheaval, coups and conflicts, but violence has usually hit regions far from Khartoum. This time, fighting has centred on the capital, an urban sprawl at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers and home to millions of people.
The capital has seen widespread looting and frequent power and water supply cuts. Most hospitals have stopped functioning.
Before the ceasefire deal was renewed, an army source said the army had demanded the RSF withdraw from civilian homes and hospitals as a condition for an extension. After the five-day extension was agreed, talks continued on the truce terms.
The truce has been brokered and is being remotely monitored by Saudi Arabia and the United States. They say it has been violated by both sides, although the truce has still allowed the delivery of aid to an estimated 2 million people.
The war has killed hundreds of people, displaced more than 1.2 million inside Sudan and driven 400,000 others across borders to neighbouring states, the United Nations says.
Clashes have also erupted outside the capital, including Darfur, a region in the far west of Sudan where a conflict that erupted in 2003 has flared on and off for years.
The United Nations, some aid agencies, embassies and parts of Sudan’s central government have moved operations out of the capital to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, which has stayed calm.
Leaders of the army and RSF, which emerged from militias the government used to quell an earlier uprising in Darfur, held top positions on Sudan’s ruling council after former President Omar al-Bashir, also an army commander, was toppled in 2019.
After Bashir was ousted in a popular uprising, the army with RSF leaders staged a coup in 2021 before they were due to hand leadership to civilians.
Army chief Burhan and RSF leader Hemedti fell out over the chain of command and restructuring of the RSF under the planned transition to civilian rule. After conflict flared, Burhan sacked Hemedti as his deputy in the ruling council.