(OSV News) — World leaders — including those from the church, humanitarian and diplomatic community — have appealed for a return to dialogue to save Sudan, as fighting triggered fears of a humanitarian catastrophe in the northeastern African country.
The leaders are pushing for a ceasefire, humanitarian access and respect for civilians and civilian structures, as the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continue fighting. They have been engaged in full combat since April 15.
There are no signs the fighting could end soon, and humanitarian agencies say a key priority is to save lives. Analysts also warned the fighting could draw in neighboring countries or even members of the international community.
On April 20, explosions, airstrikes and heavy gunfire were heard in Khartoum, the capital city, with residents reporting heavy smoke blanketing the city’s skyline.
Another attempt at a ceasefire in the fighting between the two sides failed to hold April 18, raising fears that basic necessities — including food, fuel, water and medicines — were running out. Countries trying to evacuate their citizens trapped in the conflict had lobbied for a U.S.-brokered, 24-hour ceasefire, but the truce collapsed within minutes of its proposed launch at 6 p.m. local time.
“We are gravely concerned about the developments in Sudan and we are gathering information,” Father Andrew Ulemu Kaufa, a Malawian Montfort missionary priest who is the coordinator of social communication at the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA), told OSV News. “We are trying to see what kind of help AMECEA can give the churches and civilians who need humanitarian support.”
Catholic bishops in Sudan and South Sudan said in an April 17 statement they are “saddened” by the violence, and want dialogue to preserve life and the unity of the country. Churches across the world also have prayed for Sudan or organized online prayer through social media.
In Kenya, Catholic bishops stressed the hardened positions of the two sides fighting and the urgent need for dialogue in Sudan was a lesson for the East African nation.
“Learning from what is happening in the neighboring countries, especially the terrible and destructive ongoing war in Sudan, we must raise the alarm to what happens when antagonists harden their hearts and allow pride and stubbornness to close any avenue for peace,” Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde of Mombasa told journalists at a news conference in Nairobi April 20.
With bombings, the state of church buildings was not immediately clear, but church officials said an Anglican cathedral in Khartoum had come under attack. Anglican Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo of Sudan said armed men entered the church compound on April 17 at night and began breaking into cars using guns.
After weeks of tension, a power struggle between Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), which is the regular army, and Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, the leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Force (RSF), erupted in full fighting April 15.
Thousands of people continued to flee the fighting in Khartoum April 20, according to reports. Airports were closed and public transport disrupted, leaving very limited choices for those trying to flee.
At least 300 people have died and over 3,000 have been injured in the violence, the World Health Organization’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Twitter April 20. “I condemn all loss of life, especially attacks on civilians and health care,” said Ghebreyesus.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said hospitals in Khartoum were running dangerously low on medical supplies, while damage to water and energy infrastructure had left medical facilities without power and clean water. The organization said its office in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur region, had been looted.
“It is highly distressing hearing reports of civilian casualties and bodies left lying in the streets of Khartoum. They need to be collected and treated with dignity. We are calling for an unimpeded humanitarian access immediately,” Patrick Youssef, ICRC Africa regional director, urged.
Youssef said the organization’s urgent priority was to get medical assistance to hospitals and try to make repairs to their water and power so they can treat the wounded.
“But without the necessary security guarantees required to move around safely, we are unable to deliver aid and to fully assess the humanitarian needs,” he said.
CNN reported April 20 that 70% of the hospitals in the country are out of service, with staff afraid to go in and treat severely wounded people as the militias are attacking the facilities.
In Nairobi, the Rev. Fidon Mwombeki, a Tanzanian Lutheran who is head of the All Africa Conference of Churches, said the full-blown conflict was a setback to the progress made toward restoring democracy and peace in Sudan.
He urged the two sides in the conflict to cease fire, resume talks and finalize the framework agreement toward a peaceful transition to democracy.
“We are appealing for the security and safety of civilians, many of whom are trapped in locations where there is combat. The people of Sudan have had enough and deserve peace,” said Rev. Mwombeki, whose organization represents over 500,000 Christians in Africa.
Fredrick Nzwili writes for OSV News from Nairobi, Kenya.