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Sudan in ‘total panic’ as paramilitaries move south

“The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) looted everything: cars, trucks and tractors,” laments a resident of a village in al-Jazeera state, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the part of the paramilitaries as they advance south. War-torn Sudan.

The villagers of Al-Jazeera hold their breath every time they hear the roar of a car or motorcycle engine, so afraid are they of the formidable RSF paramilitaries.

“On Saturday, seven individuals armed with machine guns and wearing RSF uniforms knocked on my door,” Abdine told AFP, refusing to reveal his last name for security reasons.

They questioned him about the car parked in his garage before “taking it away with their guns pointed at us”, said a distressed resident of Hasaheisa, a town 50 kilometers north of the capital of Al- Jazeera, Wad Madani.

The bloody war which has pitted the Sudanese army against the RSF paramilitaries in Khartoum for eight months has forced half a million people to take refuge further south, in this agricultural state until recently spared the violence.

But recently, the paramilitaries, who control most of the capital, have been advancing along the highway linking the capital to Wad Madani, taking village after village and terrorizing its inhabitants.

On December 15, they attacked Wad Madani, again forcing more than 300,000 people to flee, within the state of Al-Jazeera but also to the neighboring states of Sennar and Gedaref, according to the UN.

Since then, the paramilitaries have continued their incessant descent towards the south.

On Saturday, they were spotted “15 kilometers north of Sennar”, 140 kilometers south of Wad Madani, witnesses told AFP.

– Looted markets and indiscriminate shooting –

“Army planes bombed Rapid Support Forces gatherings north of the city, causing panic among residents,” other witnesses reported. Since the surprise start of the conflict on April 15, the army led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane has mainly played its role as an air asset: it is the only army to have combat aircraft. The FSR of General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, on the other hand, favors mobile troops perched on pick-ups.

Everywhere they go, women and girls fear being subjected to “sexual violence, a recurring threat” in Sudan, according to the NGO Save the Children.

At the Hasaheisa market, the doors of the stalls were open and goods that did not interest the looters were scattered on the ground, noted an AFP journalist.

“Did the RSF come to fight us, the citizens, or did they come to fight the army?” » asked AFP Omar Hussein, 42, as shops and vehicles belonging to his family were looted or destroyed.

In another market, that of Tamboul, halfway between Khartoum and Wad Madani, paramilitaries burst into the market and fired indiscriminately, witnesses reported.

– Every room searched” – According to the UN, 12,000 people have died as a result of the conflict, a figure surely largely underestimated given the extent to which entire swaths of the country are cut off from the rest of the world.

It has also led to the displacement of 7.1 million people, including 1.5 million in neighboring countries, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, said on Thursday, calling it “the largest displacement crisis in the world “.

On Friday, the United Nations Security Council said it was “concerned” by the intensification of violence in Sudan, while “strongly condemning” attacks against civilians and the extension of the conflict “to areas hosting significant displaced populations.

Since the start of the war, the two rival camps have accused each other of attacking civilians.

So, says Rabab, who also withheld his last name, when the paramilitaries “fired bullets in front of the house before entering, we all panicked.”

“They only left after having searched every room,” she explained to AFP.

Al-Tayeb, a resident of a village near Hasaheisa, was surprised when the paramilitaries asked him “a strange question: they wanted to know how I got the money to build my house, which I inherited from my father and which was built 35 years ago. There is”.

An answer which, in any case, will matter little to the fighters. On Saturday, eight people were shot dead by the RSF in the village of Artadhwa because they opposed the looting, witnesses told AFP.

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