Rebels take control of Sudan’s second-largest city, endangering refugees

Reports indicate that Wad Madani, Sudan’s second-largest city and an important safe haven for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Sudanese civilians, was captured by the insurgent Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on Monday. 

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Following reports that the paramilitary group had seized the town of Rufaa, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Wad Madani, thousands of civilians began fleeing the city as news came to light that the RSF was continuing its advance through Al-Jazira state towards the provincial capital. Residents of the area claim that soldiers in the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), the official military of the state of Sudan, started looting the area prior to the RSF’s arrival.

Claims also emerged that the SAF and local police were targeting individuals based on ethnicity, arresting civilians from Darfur without proper cause.

A dire humanitarian situation in Sudan

After three days of intense fighting between the RSF and SAF in and around Wad Madani, the RSF posted videos on Monday of its forces patrolling the streets of the city in pickup trucks. International aid organizations and foreign governments, such as the United States, say that the seizure of the city may severely exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation in Sudan. 

While the RSF was still conducting its advance, the US State Department published a statement on Saturday imploring the rebel paramilitary group to halt and refrain from attacking Wad Madani due to the city’s role as “an important hub for international humanitarian relief efforts.” The statement, which is attributed to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, says that an RSF incursion will worsen the humanitarian situation and result in countless more civilian deaths. 

A Sudanese woman, mourns her son and a relative, who according to her were killed by Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Ourang on the outskirts of Adre, Chad July 25, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRA)

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than half a million Sudanese civilians, many from the country’s capital of Khartoum, have taken shelter in Wad Madani since the war began, raising the city’s pre-war population from roughly 200,000 to over 700,000. 

The ongoing civil war ravaging Sudan is rooted in a political fallout between General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads the Sudanese government and the SAF, and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the RSF and aims to overthrow Burhan. Following the 2019 coup that deposed long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir, the two men shared power with a civilian government, but in 2021, they executed an overthrow of the civilian government to consolidate power. The paramilitary RSF turned against Burhan the next year after the government failed to integrate the force into the SAF. 

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, an international think tank and conflict mapping organization, says that the war has killed approximately 12,190 people and displaced over six million. 

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