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Report from Khartoum: Civilians Killed & Trapped Amid Fighting Between Factions in Sudan’s Military

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We go to Khartoum, Sudan, for an update on fighting that began Saturday between the Sudanese military and a rival paramilitary force that has left at least 97 civilians dead and hundreds more injured. The fighting pits Sudan’s military against a powerful paramilitary group and has dashed hopes of a civilian-led, democratically elected government — a key demand of protesters who led Sudan’s mass mobilizations in 2019 — and sparked fears of civil war. “What should be the priority right now is a ceasefire,” says Sudanese activist Marine Alneel.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations, the African Union, the United States, Russia and China are all calling for a ceasefire in Sudan, after fighting between the Sudanese military and a rival paramilitary force have left nearly 100 civilians dead since Saturday. Hundreds of civilians have been injured. The actual death toll is believed to be much higher. The heaviest fighting has been in the capital Khartoum around the Republican Palace, the army headquarters and the international airport.

The fighting has pitted Sudan’s military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, against a powerful paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, led by Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan, known as “Hemedti.” General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has been the de facto leader of Sudan since the overthrow of the longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. Mohamed Hamdan is a former commander of the janjaweed militias, which was responsible for murders, rapes and torture in Sudan’s Darfur region. The fighting has dashed hopes of a civilian-led, democratically elected government, a key demand of protesters who led the mass mobilizations four years ago that led to al-Bashir’s ouster. The fighting stems in part from a dispute over how the paramilitary Rapid Suppport Forces would be integrated into the Sudanese military.

The deadly clashes have also impacted humanitarian efforts in Sudan. In North Darfur, three employees of the World Food Programme were killed, forcing the U.N. agency to temporarily halt all operations in Sudan. In addition, a U.N. humanitarian plane was significantly damaged at Sudan’s airport in Khartoum on Sunday.

We go now to Khartoum, where we’re joined by the Sudanese activist Marine Alneel.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Marine. Can you explain what’s happening in your city, in the capital of Sudan, in Khartoum?

MARINE ALNEEL: Good morning, Amy Goodman.

As I’m speaking to you right now from Khartoum, we are hearing airstrikes. We’re hearing fighter jets. We’re hearing different kinds of explosions that we’re not aware what are they exactly. I think what is not clear, when we’re saying — when in the international media we’re talking about the clashes being around the military headquarters, around the presidential palace and around other military buildings, that these buildings are in the middle of the city, very close by to residential areas. Not meters away from any of these buildings, there are neighborhoods that are populaced. There are many residents living there. And these clashes are happening in between these buildings. The people, the civilians, are caught in the middle of the clashes and are being affected. And the casualties, as you said, are probably much higher than reported. These people are not able to reach hospitals. We’re not able to reach medical attention. Many have been shot on their ways to hospitals and medical attention. And the streets are not safe.

The ceasefire that was announced yesterday had absolutely no manifestation on the ground. And I think the Sudanese people were aware of that. The Rapid Support Forces, the Sudanese Armed Forces and the U.N. — all the parties that were announcing this ceasefire or the truce that was supposed to provide safe routes — are not credible for the Sudanese people. And it was shown to us. When 4 p.m. came, the time for the truce, actually, the explosions were louder. There were many more gunfires that were being heard by residents of Khartoum. And people were frantically trying to warn each other to not believe the ceasefire, to not go out of their houses, to stay sheltering in place.

AMY GOODMAN: I am so sorry you’re speaking to us under such duress. I wanted to play for you Sudan’s former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok urging warring parties to reach a ceasefire.

ABDALLA HAMDOK: [translated] I speak to you today as our country faces the danger of separation, and I say to you that when a bullet is fired from a weapon, it cannot tell the difference between the attacker and those being attacked, and the victims are the Sudanese people. My first message is to General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the leaders of the Sudanese military and to Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and the leaders of the Rapid Support Forces. The exchange of fire must stop immediately, and the voice of reason must rule. Everyone will lose, and there is no victory when it is on the top of the bodies of our people.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, he’s the former prime minister, for a very brief period of time. But for people who are not understanding this conflict and what happened after Bashir was thrown out in April of 2019, go back in time and explain how what we’re seeing today is unfolding, Marine.

MARINE ALNEEL: The 2019 popular revolution ousted President Omar al-Bashir. And immediately, the military took over, and the political powers at the time, the Forces of Freedom and Change, immediately entered a negotiation with the military, causing a lot of frustration amongst the people, who have given their lives and souls to the revolution, as we knew that this negotiations do not meet our demands. We did not want to enter into negotiations. We wanted an immediate exit from the power when it comes to the military, and we wanted an immediate transition of power to a civilian government. However, the negotiations are what led us to this moment, and we hear statements such as the one that we just heard from former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok — we hear them with a lot of frustration, because this is the transitional government that when it was in power empowered the Sudanese Armed Forces and empowered the Rapid Support Forces and further legitimized them. And this is what led us to a situation of a full-blown conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: So, on Sunday, Sudan’s fighting factions agreed to a three-hour humanitarian pause, from 4:00 to 7:00 in the afternoon. Did that actually happen? That’s simply an indication of what could happen. And talk about all the different countries that are now weighing in, if that matters.

MARINE ALNEEL: The truce did not manifest on the ground at all. There was continuous airstrikes and gunshots and explosions being heard by people sheltering in place. And we did not think it was credible. We did not think it was going to happen. And they proved us right, that they are not serious about this truce, the same way that they are not serious in their interest for the well-being of the Sudanese people.

And as for the foreign entities, the regimes that are backing the Rapid Support Forces or the Sudanese Armed Forces, which have switched sides, you could say that maybe for the time being the Rapid Support Forces is backed by Russia, while the Sudanese Armed Forces is backed by Egypt. There are other players, such as the United States or the United Arab Emirates. And all of these anti-democratic regimes that are backing our anti-democratic regime, to a far extent, are irrelevant to what is happening on the ground. As long as this support is happening, they are now continuing to — we are living under airstrikes, under the attack.

And I think what matters right now is a ceasefire on the ground. It does not matter if we’re talking about whether they’re going to go back to negotiations. I think there’s a lot of talk in the international media and focus on the framework agreement. Honestly, when we hear that on the news, it just seems like our lives are irrelevant. Why are we focusing on an agreement that led us to the war, when what should be the priority right now is a ceasefire, opening safe routes for people to be able to flee these active conflict zones right now? And what is written on paper right now does not matter, when we have people under fire, losing their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what led to this latest outbreak of violence? And a lot of attacks on military installations, but they’re throughout Khartoum, so that, of course, threatens many civilians. Explain who these two forces are.

MARINE ALNEEL: So, the two forces are the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, also known as the janjaweed, which was legitimized by Omar al-Bashir’s regime and further legitimized by the transitional government. For the Sudanese people, what matters is that — this is an accumulation of what has happened during Omar al-Bashir’s regime, what has happened during the transitional government, starting from the negotiations. It’s an accumulation of allowing these forces to remain in power, to remain having arms, and to remain a legitimate entity in Sudan, when the Sudanese people have been on the ground chanting, “The military back to its barricades, and the janjaweed must be abolished.”

AMY GOODMAN: And the revolt against Bashir was largely led by women. So, what are you demanding happens right now?

MARINE ALNEEL: The demands of all the Sudanese people is a ceasefire, opening safe routes, and, most importantly, a lesson out of this that we cannot continue to legitimize these powers. We cannot continue to allow the Sudanese Armed Forces to be in the political scene. They need to return to their barricades. And we cannot continue to make little of the lives of the Sudanese people and the residents of Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how do the civilians — how is civilian power achieved in Sudan? Right now military leader.

MARINE ALNEEL: Right now what needs to happen is a ceasefire, before anything else. What is happening on the ground, actually, is that the Sudanese people are the ones leading efforts that could have been expected from a government, if we had a government that is actually interested in the well-being of the people. The civilians are the ones who are rescuing people who are trapped in risky zones. They are the ones who are — we are the ones who are creating makeshift ways of receiving and delivering medical attention. We are using our own personal vehicles to transport the injured and anyone who is in need of medical attention. And we are the ones who are coordinating the efforts of how to cope with the situation, how to cope with the power outages, with the water cuts. It is civilians who have returned to work during this time just for such emergencies, such as water cuts and power outages.

And we are not receiving any help, whether from the government — we’re not even receiving statements to clarify what is happening. All we’re doing is guess work from the ground. And we’re not receiving any help from U.N. entities or international community. We are our own government right now, helping ourselves, and absolutely not paying attention to the statements of the government, because they have been proved to be absolutely not credible.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Marine Alneel, we thank you so much for taking this time to speak to us, Sudanese activist currently in the capital, Khartoum. Please stay safe. We will continue to follow this story, of course.

Next up, we go to a leading Ugandan LGBTQ activist who risked his life by traveling to the United States to speak out against a recently passed bill in Uganda that criminalizes anyone identifying as LGBTQ. Stay with us.

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