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At least 56 killed, hundreds injured in clashes across Sudan as paramilitary group claims control of presidential palace

CNN journalists in Sudan

At least 56 people have been killed and 595 injured in clashes across Sudan, according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.

Sudan’s paramilitary chief Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo claims to have seized most of Khartoum’s official sites after clashes erupted between his armed group and the country’s military on Saturday.

“The Rapid Support Forces control more than 90 percent of strategic sites in Khartoum,” Dagalo said in an interview with Sky News Arabia, referring to his paramilitary group.

The country’s military leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, disputed Dagalo’s claims and said the military has maintained control over government sites.

Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo attends a rally in the village of Abraq, Sudan, on June 22, 2019.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Dagalo – also known as Hemedti – described Burhan as a “criminal,” accusing him of instigating fighting on Saturday, which led to three civilian deaths and dozens wounded.

Armed clashes were reported throughout Khartoum, including the presidential palace and the capital’s army headquarters. Medical sources at a hospital in central Khartoum told CNN Saturday afternoon the hospital has received dozens of wounded civilians and military personnel in the last several hours.

Among those killed was an Indian national working in Sudan, who died after being hit by a stray bullet on Saturday, the Indian embassy in Khartoum tweeted. It identified the man as Albert Augestine, a Dal Group Company employee, and said it was in touch with his family and medical authorities to “make further arrangements.”

On Saturday, the embassy issued a notice for all Indians to stay inside and take precautions.

Heavy smoke bellows above buildings in the vicinity of the Khartoum's airport on April 15, 2023, amid clashes in the Sudanese capital.

Sudan’s military said the Rapid Support Forces infiltrated Khartoum airport and burned civilian aircraft.

“To our honorable people, the rebellious forces are continuing with their cycles of traitorous plotting and attacks against our country and its national sovereignty. Since this morning, your Armed Forces sons have been fighting with their lives for our nation’s rights and dignity,” the Official Spokesman of the Armed Forces said in a statement.

Dagalo’s meteoric rise to power began when he was a leader of Sudan’s notorious Janjaweed forces, implicated in human rights violations in the Darfur conflict of the early 2000s. His group also killed at least 118 people in pro-democracy protests in June 2019 after troops opened fire at a peaceful sit-in.

‘Traitorous plotting’

Sudan’s army accused the Rapid Support Forces of “traitorous plotting” against the country, and has demanded its dissolution.

There will be “no negotiation or dialogue before dissolving Hemedti’s rebel militia,” the Sudanese army said in a statement. It also issued a wanted poster for Dagalo, calling him a “fugitive criminal.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on the leaders of the RSF and Sudanese Armed Forces to “immediately cease hostilities,” while the UN Security Council released a statement stressing “the importance that humanitarian access is maintained and the safety of UN personnel is ensured.”

The African Union also issued a statement urging “the political and military parties to find a fair political solution to the crisis.”

The General Command of the Sudanese Army issued a statement calling on civilians to stay indoors as warplanes will be conducting sweeps looking for Rapid Support Forces.

“The Sudanese Air Force will conduct a complete sweep of the rebel Rapid Support militia’s presence. The Air Force calling on all citizens to stay inside their houses and not to go out,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the “fragile” situation comes amid negotiations over a civilian-led transition to restore civilian rule in the country.

“The major parties in Khartoum some weeks ago reached a very important framework agreement on how to proceed with a transition to civilian government. And there’s been real progress in trying to move that forward,” Blinken said during a news conference in Vietnam.

“It’s a fragile situation. There are other actors that may be pushing against that progress. But this is a real opportunity to finally carry forward the civilian-led transition and one that we and other countries are trying to bolster,” the US top diplomat added.

In a statement on Sunday, Blinken said he had spoken with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates the day before about the “dangerous” fighting in Sudan that “threatens the security and safety of Sudanese civilians and undermines efforts to restore Sudan’s democratic transition.”

“We agreed it was essential for the parties to immediately end hostilities without pre-condition,” he said, adding “the only way forward is to return to negotiations that support the Sudanese people’s democratic aspirations.”

Blinken said he urges General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Degalo to take “active measures to reduce tensions and ensure the safety of all civilians.”

The discussion emphasized the importance of stopping the military escalation and returning to the framework agreement in a way that guarantees the security and stability of Sudan, it said.

Khartoum’s State Security Committee late Saturday declared a public holiday in the capital “in order to preserve lives of citizens and their property.”

The military has been in charge of Sudan since a coup in 2021, with Burhan and Dagalo at the helm. The 2021 coup ended a power-sharing arrangement, following the 2019 ouster of long-term former President Omar al-Bashir.

A CNN investigation also uncovered another link between the two men: their involvement in Russia’s exploitation of Sudan’s gold resources to fund its Ukraine war, with Dagalo’s forces also being key recipients of Russian training and weaponry.

But recent talks have led to cracks in the alliance between the two military leaders. The negotiations have sought to integrate the Rapid Support Forces into the country’s military, as part of the effort to transition to civilian rule.

Sources in Sudan’s civilian movement and Sudanese military sources told CNN the main points of contention included the timeline for the merger of the forces, the status given to RSF officers in the future hierarchy, and whether RSF forces should be under the command of the army chief — rather than Sudan’s commander-in-chief — who is currently Burhan.

The hostilities, sources told CNN, are the culmination of what both parties view as an existential fight for dominance, one with Burhan, they said, seeking support from Sudan’s former Islamist rulers, resurrecting the specter of days many Sudanese fought to leave behind.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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