Location: Sudan, Khartoum, Darfur
Parties involved: Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Rapid Support Forces (RSF)
On 15/04/2023 deadly fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) broke out in Sudan. The fighting started in the city of Merowe and extended to the densely populated area of the capital Khartoum, where both groups are suspected to have thousands of troops distributed. Clashes between the SAF and RSF have extended to North, South and Eastern Darfur, in the southwest of the country. According to U.N. figures, more than 270 people, including three UN workers, lost their lives since last Saturday and over 2600 people are wounded.
On 16/04/2023 the leaders of the SAF and RSF agreed upon a three-hour humanitarian ceasefire to create a safe passage for urgent aid. However, the announced cease-fire did not last and fighting in Khartoum continued. The ongoing fighting has made it almost impossible for Khartoum’s residents to leave their homes in order to find food, shelter or medical care. On 19/04/2023 the Sudanese health ministry warned of a total collapse of the healthcare provision in the country, as 16 hospitals went completely out of service.
On 17/04/2023 the ambassador of the EU was assaulted in his residence in Khartoum. On the same day a U.S. embassy convoy came under fire in Khartoum. No one was injured during the attack. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the attack was suspected to be carried out by the RSF. The head of the EU humanitarian mission (ECHO) in Sudan got seriously injured after being shot in Khartoum.
On 17/04/2023 satellite images of Khartoum showed damage at several locations across the city, including Khartoum International Airport. Around 20 civilian and military aircraft have been damaged. Airlines decided to suspend their flights to Khartoum amidst fighting between the SAF and RSF over control of the airport.
On 18/04/2023 the SAF and RSF agreed to a 24-hour ceasefire to create a safe passage for civilians and evacuation of wounded people. The ceasefire started at 6pm (16:00 GMT), but the battle for key locations in Khartoum continued just within hours after the ceasefire came into effect.
On 19/04/2023 Japan announced that it was preparing to evacuate its nationals from Sudan with Self-Defense Forces personnel. Japan would be the first country to start evacuations out of Sudan. It’s still unclear what the plans for evacuation of other countries are. A spokesperson of the German Foreign Ministry stated that the country was assessing all options to assist its citizens in Sudan. Most embassies in the country have advised their nationals to stay indoors and to keep away from windows and doors.
Analysis and Implications:
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been ruling Sudan together since they orchestrated a coup in 2021. The government established in 2019 was made up of military generals and a civilian government following the protests which ousted the long-time Sudanese President Omar Al-bashir in 2019. However, the shared civilian and military administration broke apart over the plan to move towards a civilian government and remove the military from power in 2021. On 25/10/2021 Abel Fattah al-Burhan, now leader of the SAF, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, now leader of the RSF, worked together to dissolve the joint military and civilian government, but their cooperation turned out to be fragile.
In December 2022, the SAF and RSF agreed upon a framework that would allow for a civilian government. As part of this deal the RSF would be integrated into the SAF, but there have been disagreements over the timeline of the integration process as well as over future army leadership. The disagreements between the two parties eventually escalated into heavy fighting on Saturday 15/04/2023.
Both militaries have ties to rival outside forces. Egypt is a strong supporter of the SAF and has multiple forces in Sudan for “training purposes”. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi stated that the country was willing to mediate between the SAF and SRF. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stated that he had been contacted by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell, who stated that the EU was supporting Egypts efforts to stop the violence in Sudan. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the RSF, is suspected to have formed a relationship with the Wagner group, a Russian mercenary group that operates within multiple African countries and is connected to the Kremlin. It has been reported that Wagner Group is not actively involved in the current conflict in Sudan, despite its extensive mineral interests in the region. The RSF has also cultivated ties with the United Arab Emirates. Two Egyptian security sources stated that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have been working together on a ceasefire proposal for Sudan. In previous years, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States formed a group known as the ‘Quad’ that together with the African Union and the United Nations tried to mediate in Sudan.
According to Irma van Dueren, the Dutch Ambassador in Sudan, the SAF as well as the RSF are not very popular among Sudanese citizens. The main reason for this is the involvement of both forces in the 2021 coup that dissolved the joint military and civilian government, but the popularity of the RSF is also lacking because of crimes committed by RSF forces in the past.
The current situation in Sudan remains very volatile as fighting between the SAF and RSF continues. According to Volker Perthes, head of the U.N. Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), the SAF and the RSF have not been given the impression that they are open for peace mediation at the moment. It is thus likely that the situation for Sudanese civilians remains highly dangerous and that humanitarian operations as well as evacuation operations remain hindered during the next couple of days.
As the situation in Sudan and its capital is expected to remain violent over the coming days, it is likely that international actors will continue to push for a new ceasefire agreement between the SAF and RSF. However, it’s questionable whether a new ceasefire will really open up the possibility for humanitarian operations and evacuation operations, given the history of the previous agreed upon ceasefires that were not upheld. The situation in Sudan thus remains unpredictable and leaves Sudanese citizens, humanitarian workers and international embassy personnel vulnerable.
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