‘War keeps following us’: Sudanese flee again as frontline moves southMon, 01 Jul 2024 17:47:48 GMT

Sudanese mother of four Hoda Ahmed has been running with her family for over a year. But every time she tries to outrun the war between Sudan’s army and paramilitary forces, it catches up to her.She had only just arrived at Sinja, the capital of the southeastern state of Sennar — having already fled fighting further north — when the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces on Saturday descended upon the city.Within hours, they had claimed Sinja’s military base, setting up checkpoints throughout the city, while the military’s fighter jets flew in overhead.As with countless times before, the fighting has sent thousands of families fleeing, including Ahmed’s.”This is our fourth time fleeing, and the war keeps following us,” she told AFP over the phone through tears.The first exodus was from Khartoum, when the forces of rival generals — army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy, RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo — turned their guns on each other in April 2023.Nabil Ahmed (no relation to Hoda) told AFP that he and his family “went to Wad Madani first in Al-Jazira, until the RSF took it”.Fourteen months into the devastating war, they have found themselves embarking on their third attempt to find safety.Hundreds of thousands had found shelter in Al-Jazira, just south of the capital, until the RSF began an aggressive advance in December, displacing masses southwards into Sennar state, which at the time had been under army control.- ‘Lost everything’ -Since the war broke out, over half a million people have sought shelter in Sennar, which connects central Sudan with the army-held southeast.According to witnesses, thousands of families have already fled Sennar city, 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Sinja, joined by thousands more who have fled the state capital since Saturday.Eyewitnesses reported hours-long traffic jams out of Sinja Sunday as people scrambled to escape on cars, pick-up trucks or donkey-drawn carts. Hoda Ahmed recounts that, like many families who have repeatedly been displaced, they have “lost everything”. “We don’t have any money to rent a house. We’ll look for a displacement centre to take us in Gedaref and pray the war doesn’t reach us there.”But Gedaref, near Sudan’s eastern border with Ethiopia, is already hosting over 600,000 people, the UN says.Over 10 million people are currently displaced across Sudan, in what the UN calls the world’s worst displacement crisis. And as the RSF seizes more territory, the frontline has inched further and further south and towards Sudan’s eastern Red Sea coast — where the army-allied government is now based.- ‘Complete darkness’ -The notorious paramilitaries, perched on armoured pick-up trucks and armed to the teeth, have launched a litany of horrors as they seize control of one town after another.They have laid siege to displacement camps, set fire to residential areas, looted property, committed mass sexual violence and left entire villages in ruins.Since Saturday, fighters have been posting videos to social media showing themselves celebrating in front of what they say is the city’s army base.On Sunday, the army released a statement “congratulating the 17th infantry division in Sinja… for their steadfastness and bravery” in the face of the “terrorist rebel militia”.Eyewitnesses reported Sinja had been all but surrounded, while “lines of cars trying to leave were blocked by the army,” one told AFP.Inside the city, residents who remained — unable or unwilling to leave — reported nearly empty streets, the silence punctuated by artillery shells.Families sheltered at home “in complete darkness”, one terrified resident told AFP, two days into an electricity blackout.- New supply line -The RSF currently holds much of the capital Khartoum, nearly the entire vast western region of Darfur and swathes of Kordofan in the south.Should they take the state of Sennar as well, they could isolate Sudan’s southern White Nile and Blue Nile states — exposing military strongholds to attack.By Sunday evening, both Blue Nile and neighbouring Gedaref had declared nighttime curfews.Activists in Al-Damazin, the state capital of Blue Nile, called for “urgent humanitarian intervention” in anticipation of the arrival of those displaced from Sennar.”If the RSF takes the bridge connecting to the east, they would have an open line to the Ethiopian border (some 500 kilometres away), which could give them new supply lines,” a military expert told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to the restive border area where an illicit arms trade already flourishes.”It would also enable them to encircle Gedaref city,” the expert warned, requesting anonymity for fear of retaliation from both sides.But much of Sennar’s population is now headed in the same direction.Hussein Abdel Jabbar, 55, told AFP his family spent all of Sunday waiting to cross the bridge, hoping to “reach Gedaref, and then decide where to go”.Just north, eyewitnesses reported RSF fighters entering multiple villages along the winding Blue Nile, as residents climbed into wooden boats to flee across the river, also heading east.