KHARTOUM — Sudan’s major paramilitary group said Saturday that it had captured the presidential palace, the army chief’s apartment, and Khartoum International Airport in an apparent coup attempt, but the military said it was fighting back.
The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which accused the army of striking them first, also claimed control of the airports in Merowe, in the north, and El-Obeid, in the west.
On the ground, the situation was unclear. The army claimed to be fighting the RSF at locations claimed by the paramilitaries. The army also claimed to have taken some RSF bases while denying that the RSF had taken Merowe airport.
A major clash between the RSF and the army may plunge Sudan into widespread strife as the country suffers with economic breakdown and tribal unrest, as well as hinder efforts to progress toward elections.
The fights are the result of escalating tensions between the army and the RSF over the RSF’s integration into the military and who should oversee the process. The disagreement has pushed back the signature of an internationally approved agreement with political parties on a democratic transition.
The RSF accused the army on Saturday of carrying out a conspiracy by loyalists of ousted former strongman President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir and launching a coup itself.
Former militia leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, leads the RSF. Since 2019, he has served as deputy leader of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council, which is led by army General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
According to the army, the Sudanese air force is conducting operations against the RSF. Reuters could not
independently authenticate footage from broadcasters showing a military aircraft in the sky above Khartoum.
Gunfire was heard in numerous areas of Khartoum, with eyewitnesses reporting gunfire in neighboring cities.
A Reuters journalist witnessed cannons and armored vehicles positioned in the capital’s streets and heard heavy weapon fire near the army and RSF headquarters.
Smoke was seen rising over numerous districts of Khartoum on television.
According to doctors, at least three individuals were killed.
Clashes were also reported inside Sudan’s state television headquarters, according to an anchor who appeared on broadcast.
As its personnel clashed with the RSF in Khartoum and elsewhere in the country, a Sudanese armed forces official told Al Jazeera Mubasher television station that the army would respond to any “irresponsible” activities.
According to Brig.-General Nabil Abdallah, there is a large presence of RSF forces at the TV headquarters in Khartoum.
Witnesses reported hearing gunshots in many other sections of the country besides the capital. Eyewitnesses told Reuters that there were violent exchanges of gunfire in Merowe.
Witnesses reported fighting between the RSF and the army in the Darfur cities of El Fasher and Nyala.
The United States, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Nations, and the European Union have all called for a halt to the fighting.
Civilian political groups that had signed an early power-sharing agreement with the army and the RSF urged both sides to put an end to the violence.
The army claimed that the RSF attempted to attack its forces in multiple locations.
According to commentators, the RSF’s fighters were targeted first by the army, which announced in a statement earlier on Saturday that the army surrounded one of its facilities and opened fire with heavy weaponry.
Hemedti’s RSF arose from janjaweed militias that fought in the Darfur region during the 2000s conflict. The violence displaced an estimated 2.5 million people and killed 300,000 people. Prosecutors from the International Criminal Court charged government leaders and janjaweed commanders in Darfur with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Hemedti had put himself at the forefront of a planned transition to democracy, alarming fellow military governors and prompting an army buildup in Khartoum.
The schism between the forces was highlighted on Thursday, when the army said that recent RSF movements, particularly in Merowe, were illegal.
The RSF, which overthrew Bashir four years ago with the army, began redeploying units in Khartoum and elsewhere last month as part of talks on its absorption into the military under a transition plan that would lead to fresh elections.