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Massive fire as Sudan factions battle for control of arms factory

June 8, 2023 at 2:46 pm

Smoke rises as clashes continue in the Sudanese capital on April 16, 2023 between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). [Mahmoud Hjaj – Anadolu Agency]

A massive fire broke out on Wednesday near a military complex containing an arms factory in southern Khartoum that Sudan’s Army has battled to defend in some of the fiercest fighting for weeks in its conflict with a rival faction, witnesses said according to a Reuters report.

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in the eighth week of a power struggle with the Army, attacked the heavily protected, sprawling Yarmouk complex on Tuesday, witnesses said.

The group, on Wednesday, posted videos in which it claimed to have taken over a warehouse filled with weapons and ammunition, as well as several entry points to the site.

The Army used air strikes to try to repel the RSF advance, witnesses said.

Fighting across the three cities that make up Sudan’s greater capital region – Khartoum, Bahri and Omdurman – has picked up since a 12-day ceasefire between the Army and RSF formally expired on 3 June after repeated violations.

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“Since yesterday, there has been a violent battle with the use of planes and artillery and clashes on the ground and columns of smoke rising,” Nader Youssef, a resident living near Yarmouk, told Reuters by phone.

Due to the proximity of fuel and gas depots, “any explosion could destroy residents and the whole area”, he said.

A fire that began in the morning suddenly grew in size before sunset on Wednesday, as explosions were heard, another resident living close to the depots said.

Local activists said the fires were caused by the bombing of the fuel and gas depots, and that houses in the area had been hit by shells and stray bullets.

Residents in Omdurman and Bahri, about 15 km (9 miles) away, reported that towering flames were visible after nightfall from Yarmouk.

The RSF quickly seized swathes of the capital after war erupted in Khartoum on 15 April. Army air strikes and artillery fire have not dislodged them, but the RSF may face a challenge restocking with ammunition and fuel as the conflict drags on.

The violence has derailed the launch of a transition towards civilian rule four years after a popular uprising ousted strongman, President Omar Al-Bashir. The Army and RSF, which together staged a coup in 2021, fell out over the chain of command and military restructuring plans under the transition.

Sudan’s Health Ministry has recorded at least 780 civilian deaths as a direct result of the fighting. Hundreds more have been killed in the city of El Geneina in West Darfur. Medical officials say many bodies remain uncollected or unrecorded.

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