After several months of stalemate on the front, the regular Sudanese army has collapsed in recent weeks in multiple strategic positions in the country in the face of the rapid advance of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, with which it was engaged in a war for power. which has been ravaging the nation since April this year. The advance of the paramilitary group is accompanied by serious human rights violations, it causes panic and unrest in the territories that the military still controls, and it occurs in the absence of a significant diplomatic initiative to end the conflict.
One of the worst setbacks for the army came on Tuesday, when the Rapid Support Forces took control of Wad Madani, one of Sudan’s most important towns, with little opposition. The city, home to 700,000 people, is located about 130 kilometers south of the capital, Khartoum, and has in recent months become both a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and a key logistics and operational center for humanitarian aid agencies. .
As in the rest of the areas they captured, the paramilitaries looted Wad Madani in a widespread manner, according to local civil organizations. A group of human rights lawyers say they have verified images of killings, torture, burning and mutilation of bodies in Gezira state, of which Wad Madani is the capital. EL PAÍS contacted the Rapid Support Forces but, at the time of publishing this article, had not received a response.
In the days before the militiamen’s arrival, military authorities also arrested, without due process and because of their ethnic profile, numerous people whom they accused of being part of sleeper cells linked to the Rapid Support Forces, according to local media and videos. broadcast on social networks. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has called for all reports of abuse to be investigated.
300,000 internally displaced people
The war in Sudan broke out in April due to the lack of agreement between the army and the Rapid Support Forces on security sector reform and their failure to consolidate their authority after carrying out a coup. Joint state at the end of 2021. The coup put an end to a fragile democratic system. transition that began in the country two years earlier, shortly after the overthrow of former President Omar Al Bashir after 30 years in office.
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As of Wednesday, at least 300,000 people had fled Gezira state as paramilitaries advanced. Due to a lack of transportation, many did so on foot, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Before the war broke out, nearly six million people lived in Gezira, including 500,000 internally displaced people, including more than 85,000 in Madani, according to the IOM.
“We live in very bad conditions. And they got worse because of everything that happened,” says Mozdalifah, a young woman from Khartoum who moved to Wad Madani after the start of the war and was in a neighboring town when she was fell into the hands of the paramilitaries. “The Rapid Support (Forces) are everywhere and enter anywhere,” he adds, “there is no security in Sudan; “There is no suitable place.”
The fall of Wad Madani and virtually the entire Gezira disrupted the operations of humanitarian agencies in the area, including the United Nations World Food Program, which suspended aid to more than 800,000 people. Gezira is also Sudan’s most fertile state, and there are fears that the onset of war could reduce agricultural production and worsen alarming levels of food security in the country.
“In terms of humanitarian operations, this is very significant because Wad Madani is the first humanitarian center outside the capital. He not only served the people of Wad Madani and the state, but also the surrounding states. And from there we carried out evacuations from Khartoum and tried to send aid to Khartoum,” explains Mathilde Vu, director of advocacy for Sudan at the NGO Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
Before launching into Wad Madani, the Rapid Support Forces consolidated their control and their presence in the western region of Darfur, their traditional stronghold and where since the end of October they have taken effective control of five of the six states which compose it without that the army put up practically no resistance. The most notable advance was the capture of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur and Sudan’s second largest city.
In these regions too, the advance of the paramilitaries was accompanied by the deaths of hundreds of civilians, thousands of displaced people, selective assassinations, rapes, arbitrary detentions, torture, looting and accusations of cleansing. ethnic. The worst atrocities were documented in Ardamata, a suburb of the West Darfur capital El Geneina, where members of the Rapid Support Forces and allied Arab militias carried out a massacre of the Masalit ethnic group. More than 1,300 people, including children and the elderly, were killed, according to an initial count by a local human rights group.
Criticism of the army
The rapid fall of Wad Madani and the entire Gezira, which had traditionally remained aloof from Sudan’s peripheral conflicts, generated deep confusion and great social upheaval. It also increased distrust of the army and criticism of military leaders, particularly its commander, Abdel Fattá al Burhan.
Among those who have raised their voices are pro-democracy sectors, but now also leaders of the Sudanese Islamist movement, which retains influence within the army and is one of its main allies. The armed forces claimed to be investigating their withdrawal from Madani, which they did not do in Darfur. Furthermore, fear of paramilitaries has triggered calls for enlistment and to speed up training and the delivery of weapons to new recruits, and some armed groups in the east of the country are taking a stand.
The fall of Gezira also opens a new chapter in the war, as it puts the Rapid Support Forces in a much better position to maintain their offensive towards neighboring states, such as Gedaref and Sennar, while the army attempts to rebuild. The armed forces retain only small pockets of territory in Khartoum state, mostly limited to fortified military bases, as well as most of the east and north of the country.
In Darfur, all attention is focused on the northern state capital, Al Fasher, where more than a million people live, many of whom have been displaced from other states in the region. This is where the last major army stronghold in the region is located and several large armed movements have been mobilized to defend the city in the event of attack.
The latest advances by the paramilitaries come less than two weeks after an East African bloc of countries (IGAD) announced, following a meeting in Djibouti, that the leaders of the forces opposed to Sudan were agreed to meet in less than 15 days. This information was quickly denied. In recent days, Sudanese diplomatic sources have once again assured local and regional media that the two leaders have agreed to meet soon, but the date and agenda have also not been set. The main negotiations between the sides took place in Jeddah under the auspices of Saudi Arabia and the United States, although the last round, in October, once again concluded without progress.
The conflict has already left more than 12,000 dead, according to the most conservative counts, and has caused significant damage and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the country, which currently has the largest number of displaced people in the world.
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