Almost 100 people have died in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, as intense combat between the country’s military and the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) rages for a third day.
The fierce fighting has left hopes for a peaceful transition to civilian rule in tatters.
At the heart of the clashes are two men: Sudan’s military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the commander of the paramilitary RSF, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti.
Until recently, they were allies. However, tensions arose during negotiations to integrate the RSF into the country’s military as part of plans to restore civilian rule.
The key question: who would be subordinate to who under the new hierarchy?
These hostilities, sources told CNN, are the culmination of what both parties view as an existential fight for dominance.
Clashes first erupted on Saturday. Eyewitnesses in Khartoum told CNN on Monday they heard mortars and artillery in the early hours of the morning, with the fighting intensifying after dawn prayers in the direction of Khartoum International Airport and Sudanese Army garrison sites.
Each side blames one another for starting the fight.
CNN spoke to both Hemedti and Burhan in separate interviews this week.
Sudan’s paramilitary chief accuses the army of breaking the humanitarian ceasefire
The leader of Sudan’s powerful paramilitary group RSF, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, has accused the Sudanese army of breaking an UN-brokered temporary humanitarian ceasefire Sunday evening.
“We’re under attack from all directions,” Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, told CNN’s Larry Madowo in a telephone interview. “We stopped fighting and the other side did not, which put us in a predicament and we had to keep fighting to defend ourselves,” he claimed.
Hemedti speculated that army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has lost control of his military, saying “They don’t seem to be listening to him.”
He also claimed to be in control of the presidential palace, Khartoum airport, and the General Command headquarters. CNN cannot independently verify the claim.
When asked if his endgame in the clashes was to rule Sudan, Hemedti said he had “no such intentions.”
“There should be a civilian government. This has always been my stance,” he said.
The RSF leader apologized to the Sudanese people and blamed the military for kickstarting the conflict. “It was not us who did this. We were defending ourselves. We’re sorry and we tell the Sudanese people that this crisis will end, and Sudan will be even better than before. And this will be a lesson to learn in the future.”
Sudan military chief calls RSF offensive an ‘attempted coup’
Speaking with CNN’s Nima Elbagir, the head of Sudan’s military, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has characterized an offensive staged in recent days by the paramilitary RSF as an “attempted coup.”
“This is an attempted coup and rebellion against the state,” Burhan told CNN by phone. He said that RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo had “mutinied” against the state, and if captured, would be tried in a court of law.
The sound of gunshots rang out in the background, despite an agreed-upon ceasefire at 4 pm local time. Burhan claimed that for a second day, the RSF’s leader had violated that agreed ceasefire.
“Yesterday and today a humanitarian ceasefire proposal was put forward and agreed upon. Sadly, he did not abide by it. You can hear right now the attempts to storm the Army headquarters, and indiscriminate mortar attacks. He’s using the humanitarian pause to continue the fight.”
When asked about that allegation, a spokesperson for the RSF told CNN that the RSF was trying to abide by the ceasefire, but “they keep firing which leaves no choice” but for the RSF to “defend itself by firing back.”
When challenged on why the Sudanese people should trust him, given his former alliance with Dagalo, Burhan told CNN: “The Sudanese Army is the people’s army.”
“It is not owned by specific people or specific organizations,” he said. “It is a national institution, which is tasked with defending Sudan.”