International groups fret as new wave of violence destabilises Sudan

The Sudanese military and a paramilitary group clashed over the weekend as both sides claimed control of key areas of Khartoum. (Keystone/AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

Clashes between armed groups fighting for control erupted in Sudan over the weekend, plunging the conflict and drought-struck nation into a new wave of deadly violence that humanitarian observers warn could have “devastating” consequences.

UN secretary general António Guterres on Monday called for an “immediate” halt to hostilities in Sudan, as clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group, erupted in parts of the country over the weekend, including in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Guterres warned that the fighting meant that Sudan’s “precarious” humanitarian situation was turning “catastrophic”.

The violent clashes left many injured and caused the deaths of several civilians, including three World Food Programme (WFP) employees, leading the UN organisation to announce a “temporary” suspension of operations in a country already ravaged by widespread hunger.

UN emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths said he was “very concerned” about the situation in the country and warned that, with a third of Sudan’s population already in need of humanitarian assistance, “more violence will only make things worse”.

The surge in violence has also drawn condemnation and concern from several humanitarian observers, with Plan International issuing warnings over children’s safety and the International Committee of the Red Cross expressing “extreme” concern over fighting taking place in “densely populated areas,” where civilians are reportedly stranded without supplies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that some hospitals in Khartoum were running out of blood and other vital supplies to treat the injured. Healthcare facilities have been shelled in parts of the country, the BBC reported. The UN health body called on all sides to “respect the neutrality of health care”.

As the fighting continues, some international aid workers on the ground are urging the warring sides not to repeat past and “infamous” acts of violence. Referring to ongoing aerial bombardments in Khartoum, Laetitia Bader, Human Rights Watch Horn of Africa director, recalled “indiscriminate” bombings in 2010, which hit populated areas in southern Sudan, as well as “deliberate scorched earth campaigns” and village attacks which led to population displacement.

Michelle Langrand contributed to this article.