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Sudan humanitarian ceasefire comes into effect amid army's airstrikes across capital Khartoum

Smoke rises above buildings after an aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

A week-long ceasefire agreed by Sudan's warring factions has entered into force hours after the country's army conducted heavy airstrikes across the capital Khartoum against positions of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The ceasefire, which was agreed on Saturday after many weeks of pitched battles between the country's rival forces, came into effect at 9:45 p.m. local time (19:45 GMT) on Monday.

Witnesses, however, reported heavy bombardments in east Khartoum, as the latest photos showed thick black smoke rising into the sky.

The conflict in the North African country represents a power struggle between army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and his former deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, who heads the RSF.

The RSF is adept at ground fighting, while the army has depended largely on airstrikes and heavy artillery fire.

Prior to the ceasefire's materialization, the RSF released an audio message from Dagalo, in which he said his forces will not retreat until they end what he described as the army’s coup.

The war in Sudan has already driven nearly 1.1 million people from their homes, including more than 250,000 who have fled into neighboring countries. More than 700 people have been killed and over 5,200 others injured in the conflict, according to the World Health Organization. However, the true death toll is believed to be much higher.

In 2021, Burhan and Dagalo jointly staged a coup that derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule put in place after the 2019 overthrow of former Sudanese ruler, Omar al-Bashir. They later fell out over a number of issues, including the integration of the RSF into the regular army.

Also on Monday, the UN special representative to Sudan told the UN Security Council that fighting in the North African country could turn into an ethnic-driven conflict if the warring parties do not respect and extend a ceasefire.

"The growing ethnicization of the conflict risks to expand and prolong it with implications for the region," Volker Perthes said, adding, "In parts of the country, fighting between the two armies or the two armed formations has sharpened into communal tensions, or triggered conflict between communities."

He noted that "warning signs of tribal mobilization are also reported in other parts of the country, particularly in South Kordofan."

After the ceasefire was established, he once again addressed the Security Council, describing it as a "welcome development" that should allow civilians to move and give access for humanitarian aid.

"This is a welcome development, though the fighting and troop movements have continued even today, despite a commitment of both sides not to pursue military advantage before the ceasefire takes effect," Perthes added.

"I continue to urge the parties to honor this agreement, which they signed two days ago. They must stop the fighting. They must allow access for humanitarian relief, protect humanitarian workers and assets," he said.

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