Sustained firing heard in Sudanese capital amid tensions between military and powerful paramilitary forces

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Sustained firing broke out in the Sudanese capital Saturday amid simmering tensions between the military and the country’s powerful paramilitary forces.

The sounds of heavy firing could be heard in a number of areas, including central Khartoum and the neighbourhood of Bahri.

In a series of statements, the Rapid Support Forces militia accused the army of attacking its forces at one of its bases in south Khartoum and claimed they had seized the city’s airport and “completely controlled” Khartoum’s Republican Palace, the seat of the country’s presidency.

The group also said it seized an airport and airbase in the northern city of Marawi, some 215 miles northwest of Khartoum. The Associated Press was unable to verify those claims.

In a separate statement Saturday, the Sudanese Army said the fighting broke out after RSF troops tried to attack its forces in the southern part of the capital. In a later statement, the military declared the RSF a “rebel force,” describing the paramilitary’s statements as “lies.”

The clashes came as tensions between the military and the RSF have escalated in recent months, forcing a delay in the signing of an internationally backed deal with political parties to revive the country’s democratic transition.

Commercial aircraft trying to land at Khartoum International Airport began turning around to head back to their originating airport. Flights from Saudi Arabia turned back after nearly landing at Khartoum International Airport, flight tracking data showed Saturday.

Tensions between the army and the paramilitary stem from a disagreement over how the RSF, headed by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, should be integrated into the military and what authority should oversee the process. The merger is a key condition of Sudan’s unsigned transition agreement.

However, the army-RSF rivalry dates back to the rule of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in 2019. Under the former president, the paramilitary force grew out of former militias known as the janjaweed that carried out a brutal crackdown in Sudan’s Darfur region during the decades of conflict there.

In a rare televised speech Thursday, a top army general warned of potential clashes with paramilitary forces, accusing it of deploying forces in Khartoum and other areas of Sudan without the army’s consent. The RSF defended the presence of its forces in an earlier statement.

The RSF recently deployed troops near the northern Sudanese town of Merowe. Also, videos circulating on social media Thursday show what appear to be RSF-armed vehicles being transported into Khartoum, farther to the south.

The U.S. Ambassador to Sudan, John Godfrey, wrote online that he was “currently sheltering in place with the Embassy team, as Sudanese throughout Khartoum and elsewhere are doing.”

“Escalation of tensions within the military component to direct fighting is extremely dangerous,” Godfrey wrote. “I urgently call on senior military leaders to stop the fighting.”

In Saturday’s statement, the RSF said it was contacted by three former rebel leaders who hold government positions in an apparent bid to de-escalate the conflict.

Sudan has been married in turmoil since October 2021 Western-backed, power-sharing administration and dashed Sudanese aspirations for democratic rule after three decades of autocracy and repression under Islamist ruler al-Bashir

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