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Sudan army chief home after first foreign trip in war

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) receives Sudanese General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in El Alamein
— Port Sudan (Sudan) (AFP)

Sudan's army chief returned home Tuesday after visiting Egypt on his first trip abroad since the outbreak of war in April, with the latest violence killing dozens of civilians in battle-scarred Darfur.

As Abdel Fattah al-Burhan travelled for talks with key ally Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, medics and witnesses said 39 civilians were killed, most of them women and children, in shelling of Nyala, the South Darfur state capital where fighting between the army and paramilitary forces has intensified.

Burhan was back in Sudan's Red Sea city of Port Sudan late Tuesday, the country's highest authority, the Sovereign Council said, after he swapped his trademark military fatigues for a suit and tie for his flight to El Alamein on Egypt's north coast earlier the same day.

While there, he said his forces faced "rebel groups who have committed war crimes in their attempt to seize power".

Western countries have accused the paramilitaries and allied militias of killings based on ethnicity, and the International Criminal Court has opened a new probe into alleged war crimes.

The army has also been accused of abuses, including a July 8 air strike that killed around two dozen civilians.

In their meeting, Sisi's office said he had "reaffirmed Egypt's firm position in standing by Sudan and supporting its security, stability and territorial integrity".

The war between Burhan and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), has raged since April 15, killing thousands and uprooting millions.

For months, the RSF had besieged Burhan inside the military headquarters in Khartoum, but last week the general made his first foray outside the compound.

Sudan's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan prepares to board a plane to Egypt on his first visit abroad since fighting flared in April with a rival general

Speaking to Egyptian media on Tuesday, Burhan said Sudan's military is "committed to ending the war" and "does not seek to continue ruling" the country.

"We seek free, fair elections where the Sudanese people can decide what they want."

But the war continued on Tuesday.

In Khartoum's eastern district of Sharq al-Nil, the RSF came under artillery fire, according to witnesses.

- New Darfur violence -

Fighting in Nyala killed at least 39 civilians when shelling hit their homes, witnesses and a medical source said.

"The entire members of five families were killed in a single day," said Gouja Ahmed, a rights activist originally from the city.

Images posted online showed dozens of shrouded bodies on the ground, as well as men placing the dead in a large grave.

Darfur has long been the site of unrest since a war that erupted in 2003 and saw the then-government of Omar al-Bashir unleash the feared Janjaweed -- precursors of the RSF -- on ethnic minority rebels and civilians.

Since August 11 more than 50,000 people have fled Nyala due to the violence, the United Nations says.

Before they turned on each other, Burhan had been backed by Daglo when he became Sudan's de facto ruler in a 2021 coup.

Smoke billows into the air over the Sudanese capital Khartoum as the fighting showed no let-up Friday

The coup derailed a transition painstakingly negotiated between military and civilian leaders following the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Bashir.

Port Sudan, spared the fighting, is where government officials and the UN have relocated. It is also the site of Sudan's only functioning airport.

Burhan's trip follows multiple diplomatic efforts to end the war in Sudan, with a series of US- and Saudi-brokered ceasefires systematically violated.

In July, Egypt, which has received more than 285,000 refugees from its neighbour, hosted a crisis meeting attended by African leaders to seek a solution.

Analysts say the international allies of both sides are set to play crucial roles, with Egypt and Turkey firmly on the army's side and the United Arab Emirates and Russian mercenary group Wagner among those accused of supporting the RSF.

After Egypt, speculation has mounted that Burhan will next travel to Saudi Arabia, which has positioned itself as a mediator also "in opposition to the UAE's plan" to back the RSF, said Magdi el-Gizouli, a researcher with the Rift Valley Institute.

Conservative estimates from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data project show nearly 5,000 people have been killed in the more than four-month Sudan war.

The United Nations says more than 4.6 million people have been uprooted by the fighting, fleeing inside Sudan as well as to neighbouring countries.

Many of the million people who have crossed borders are living in "increasingly desperate conditions," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Tuesday in South Sudan, where more than 230,000 people have sought safety.