CAIRO (Reuters) – The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces that have been battling Sudan’s army for control of the country said they had seized Nyala, its second largest city, on Thursday.
The seizure of the capital of South Darfur state in the west of the country could mark a turning point in Sudan’s six-month war, and comes as the two sides are due to restart negotiations in Jeddah.
The army did not respond to a request for comment, and a network blackout made it difficult to immediately verify the claim.
While the RSF has covered most of the capital Khartoum on the ground, the army has managed to protect its key bases there. Meanwhile much of the government has decamped to Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast.
The RSF said in a statement that they had taken over the army’s main headquarters in Nyala and seized all its equipment. It published video, which Reuters could not verify, of its soldiers celebrating with gunfire, claiming to have overrun the base.
It also published video of RSF second-in-command Abdelrahim Dagalo, who has been sanctioned by the United States, and said he was leading the effort.
Nyala, a trade hub which observers say could serve as a base for the RSF, had been the site of vicious bouts of fighting, with air and artillery strikes killing scores of people, destroying civilian homes, disabling basic services.
At least 670,000 South Darfur residents have been displaced from their homes, the second worst affected state after Khartoum.
The RSF, whose power base lies in pockets of the Darfur region, has been accused of carrying out an ethnic massacre in West Darfur’s capital Geneina and stoking tensions across the region.
It has also taken control of Zalingei, capital of Central Darfur state. As for the other two state capitals in the region, the RSF has deployed across East Darfur capital El Daein – although the army has retained its bases there – while fierce battles are ongoing in North Darfur’s El Fasher.
(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir; editing by Christina Fincher)