Climate for intervention by African leaders ‘not suitable’, Sudan’s army chief says, as millions remain trapped

Abdel-Fattah al Burhan’s voice was jovial when he first answered the phone.

My first question – “are you safe?” – was met with “thank God, we are well and in his safety”.

The commander-in-chief has been Sudan’s de facto president since ousting his former ally and longtime military dictator Omar al Bashir after prolonged pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Now, he says he is speaking from the presidential guest house in the military command compound that was once Mr Bashir’s home and is currently his.

Various videos have emerged of the military headquarters attacked by RSF (Rapid Support Forces) troops and retaken by the army.

Mr Burhan maintained that he can move freely between his home and his office within the compound.

“Just a stray shell lands here and there as they escalate in nearby commercial and residential areas,” he said, adding that the army is holding back to prevent many civilian losses.

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Airstrikes then continued during the night as the air force bombed RSF bases. With the death toll steadily rising and civilians trapped in their homes, mosques, schools, and universities – the collateral damage already feels too high.

“How did we get here?” I asked.

The general got technical and pointed to unauthorised RSF mobilisations in Khartoum. He said 40,000-50,000 troops, including tribal militiamen, entered the capital and attacked a makeshift army base in a stadium in southern Khartoum.

His opponent and former partner in power, RSF head General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, insists that the army started it – just one of many social media statements the group has shared.

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Who is behind the the violence in Sudan?

The two factions have not just been battling it out on the streets but also online. RSF videos of airfields they claim to have seized are soon followed by counter-videos of RSF officers who have defected to the army.

At the start of our call, Mr Burhan made a declarative statement of territorial control.

“All the RSF bases in Sudan are under the control of the armed forces. All the airfields of the armed forces are under the control of the armed forces,” he said.

Sources on the ground in Merowe, a city in northern Sudan, where RSF mobilisations have been unauthorised, told Sky News that the RSF soldiers are on the airfield but surrounded by army soldiers. Another source told Sky News that Nyala airport in southern Darfur is under RSF control – with ongoing confrontations to seize territory.

The question now: can the two generals meet back on the negotiation table?

Mr Burhan’s answer was subtly caveated. He responded that he would go back to the negotiation table for the sake of the country but also added “even if there is surrender, there is still negotiation”.

The jury is still out as to whether negotiation is an option without defeat, and international mediation currently feels far-fetched.

Would the army chief welcome neighbouring presidents who have offered to fly in and mediate? His answer is – no, not right now.

“The current circumstances don’t allow for their presence. There are still clashes between the factions and the airport is under threat – this is not a suitable climate for them to come,” he said.

The climate is one of civil war. Millions of civilians are trapped and waiting for news of peaceful resolution that may never come.