Thousands flee southern Sudan town as war spreads: witnessesMon, 02 Oct 2023 16:20:21 GMT

Sudan’s months-long war has spread to a town in the country’ south, forcing thousands to flee, residents said Monday after attacks by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces battling the army.RSF fighters on dozens of armed vehicles attacked the town of Wad Ashana, on the border between North Kordofan and White Nile states, on Saturday, according to residents.”My neighbour and my cousin were both killed in the crossfire. It was hours of terror,” Al-Tayeb Abdelbaqi told AFP from El Odaydab, a town 10 kilometres (six miles) away to which he could eventually flee, sheltering with a relative along with three other families.Though there have been no credible tolls from the fighting in Wad Ashana, Abdelbaqi said “there are still bodies lying on the side of the road, and we don’t know who they are,” pleading for “health organisations to take care of them.”The same sight has been reported in other parts of the country, with volunteers routinely forced to dig mass graves and warning that the real death toll is far higher than figures suggest.By early September, the war between Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy, RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, which began on April 15, had killed nearly 7,500 people, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) project.- ‘Completely looted’ -The worst of the violence has been concentrated in Khartoum and the western region of Darfur, but North Kordofan — a crossroads between the capital and Darfur — has also seen fighting.Battles have displaced almost 4.3 million people within Sudan, in addition to around 1.2 million more who have fled across borders.Dozens of families like Abdelbaqi’s, who fled to save their lives but left everything behind, were holed up in schools in the area.”We left with only the clothes on our backs,” said another resident, Ahmed, who used to own a store in Wad Ashana and asked to only be identified by his first name for fear of retaliation.He said the local market “had been completely looted.” The same allegation has followed RSF attacks across Sudan since the war began.Footage posted to social media on Sunday by the RSF claimed to show fighters “taking over the Wad Ashana garrison in North Kordofan and advancing towards Kosti,” the last major town on the road to South Sudan. UN data shows the neighbouring country has received more than 270,000 refugees since the war began.The Sudanese Armed Forces have not yet issued any comment on the situation in the Wad Ashana region.According to Abdelbaqi, the area had been spared the fighting, until last week, when “an army force set up camp west of town”.Three days later, “the RSF attacked the city, completely overtaking it and pushing the army” 35 kilometres east, he said.Already one of the world’s poorest countries, the war has brought a humanitarian catastrophe to Sudan, where millions are on the brink of famine and diseases are spreading, according to the United Nations.