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Sporadic shelling as combat eases after Sudan ceasefire

The ceasefire is a chance for even more residents to flee Khartoum
— Khartoum (AFP)

Sporadic artillery fire still echoed in Sudan's capital Tuesday but residents said fighting had calmed following a US and Saudi-brokered ceasefire, raising faint hopes in the embattled city.

In the sixth week of war, witnesses reported a relative calm had taken hold, both in greater Khartoum and in the Darfur region's cities of Nyala and El Geneina, which have been among the other main battlegrounds.

"We have not heard shelling in our neighbourhood since last night," said a witness in southern Khartoum.

Residents had reported combat and air strikes in different districts of the capital minutes after the ceasefire formally started at 9:45 pm (1945 GMT) on Monday.

The battles since April 15 have killed an estimated 1,000 people, sparked mass evacuations of foreigners and forced more than a million people to flee their homes internally and across borders, fuelling concerns for regional stability.

Youths pull a fishing net from the White Nile river in Khartoum, during the relative calm following a ceasefire

The week-long truce aims to allow desperately needed humanitarian aid for civilians, and restoration of essential services.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington that a monitoring committee, set up under the truce agreement, is "looking into those reports" of ceasefire violations.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier in a video message that violators will be held accountable.

Fighting pits the army, led by Sudan's de facto leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces of his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

- 'Alone and abandoned' -

Those unable to flee have run low on water, food and basic supplies, and more than half the population, 25 million people, are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the UN.

There has been 'widespread looting,' said the UN human rights expert on Sudan

"Seven days is not a long time if you look at the massive scale of humanitarian emergency in Sudan," Patrick Youssef, International Committee of the Red Cross regional director for Africa, told AFP on Tuesday.

"But we are also in a situation where every minute counts and can provide a much needed respite," he said.

The text of the truce deal says warring parties agreed to secure "unimpeded road access along designated corridors or routes for humanitarian assistance delivery".

Aid workers are waiting impatiently for those promised corridors to materialise. No permits had been authorised as of Tuesday, one international humanitarian worker told AFP on condition of anonymity, due to safety concerns.

"The whole country is taken hostage," and both parties have "singularly failed" to respect international humanitarian law, said the UN's expert on human rights in Sudan, Radhouane Nouicer.

"People feel alone and abandoned amid a chronic shortage of food, drinking water, homes destroyed, indiscriminate attacks in residential areas and widespread looting."

Vehicles on the move in southern Khartoum on the first day of the US and Saudi-brokered truce

The pause in fighting longed for by Khartoum residents would also enable more of them to flee the city. The United Nations said nearly 650,000 had already done so during the war, in which numerous ceasefires previously announced were quickly violated.

Before it began, there had been an absence of signals on the ground that the latest truce would be honoured.

Volker Perthes, the UN envoy to Sudan, told the Security Council on Monday that "fighting and troop movements have continued even today, despite a commitment by both sides not to pursue military advantage before the ceasefire takes effect".

The US and Saudi Arabia said this agreement was different because the seven-page document was "signed by the parties" and would be supported by the monitoring mechanism, a committee with three members each from the US, Saudi, the army and RSF.

- Hospitals violation -

Neither side has directly blamed the other for breaking this truce -- as they did within minutes after previous ceasefires collapsed.

But the health ministry released a statement on Tuesday accusing the RSF of violating hospitals.

Sudanese paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) fighters, who emerged from the Janjaweed milita of Dafur, are fightin in the capital Khartoum

The ministry, loyal to Burhan, said RSF troops "stationed themselves" inside two hospitals in greater Khartoum Tuesday, "assaulting medical staff and ejecting patients".

The RSF called the accusations "lies".

Major fighting has devastated the Darfur region near Chad, where the UN has reported hundreds of civilians killed in the West Darfur capital El Geneina.

Perthes in his Security Council address warned that "the conflict risks to expand and prolong... with implications for the region."

Soldiers of the Sudanese army on a road blocked with bricks in Khartoum on May 20, 2023

In some areas fighting "has sharpened into communal tensions, or triggered conflict between communities", he said, after reports of civilians being armed in Darfur.

Sudan has a long history of military coups. The army in 2019 overthrew the veteran Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir after mass protests against his rule.

Sudanese were promised a gradual transition toward civilian rule, but Burhan and Daglo staged another coup in October 2021 before simmering tensions between the two men flared into the current war.