Sudan Army Chief Commits to Civilian Rule, but Not a Cease-Fire

Sudan’s army chief said on Friday that the military under his leadership was committed to a peaceful transition to civilian rule, in his first public remarks since a weeklong conflict between his troops and a powerful paramilitary force upended life in Africa’s third-largest nation.

But the army commander, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who is Sudan’s de facto leader, has derailed the country’s transition to democratic rule in the past. In late 2021, he carried out a coup that toppled the civilian prime minister and shattered a fragile power-sharing agreement between the military and civilians. And this month, just as he was expected to hand over power to civilians, his forces and those loyal to his main rival, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, began clashing violently in Khartoum, the capital, and other cities.

General al-Burhan also did not say on Friday whether the army would commit to the latest cease-fire that the paramilitary group led by General Hamdan, the Rapid Support Forces, said it had agreed to based on appeals from Sudanese civilian coalitions and international officials. Instead, he said, “Your armed forces are advancing to defeat the rebels.”

The proposed cessation of fighting was intended to allow people to gather for the Eid holiday on Friday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, to evacuate loved ones and to seek food and medical care. Instead, residents in several neighborhoods of Khartoum reported intense shelling and gunfights in the streets, and many across Sudan continued to face a desperate situation as they struggled to flee from battle areas or get access to food and water.

At least 413 people have been killed and 3,551 others wounded in the clashes since Saturday, according to the World Health Organization. At least 20 hospitals have shut their doors because of shelling or because of shortages of water, fuel and supplies like oxygen and blood for transfusion, the U.N. body said.

Eight more facilities were also facing closure because of exhaustion among medical workers, the W.H.O. added. The situation was particularly dire in Khartoum, where the warring parties have attacked hospitals and clinics and hijacked ambulances.

It remained unclear which of the two warring generals was in control of Sudan, even as countries including the United States prepared to evacuate their citizens from the northeast African nation.

General al-Burhan acknowledged that the clashes had caused heavy casualties, destroyed property and forced families across the country to flee their homes.

Referring to the Eid holiday, he said that the fighting “has left no room for the joy that our people deserve.” But he added: “We are confident that we will overcome this ordeal with training, wisdom and strength, in a way that preserves the security and unity of the country and enables us to transition to civilian rule.”

With the crisis now in its seventh day, humanitarian concerns nationwide were escalating. The U.N. World Food Program said the conflict was hindering access to meals for school-age children and those suffering from malnutrition. The agency also said that its offices and warehouses in Nyala, a city in South Darfur State, had been looted, leading to the loss of 4,400 tons of food.

On Thursday, the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, had called on the rival parties to observe a three-day cease-fire after he held a virtual meeting with regional and global bodies including the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union. But the clashes on Friday followed a pattern seen often in recent days, in which calls for and agreements to cease-fires quickly collapsed.

Elian Peltier contributed reporting.

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