In a rare moment of unity Sunday, the U.S., Russia and China all called for an end to the violence in Sudan where officials said dozens of people had been killed and hundreds wounded as the military and a powerful paramilitary group battled for control of the chaos-stricken African nation.
As heavy fighting raged into a second day, the Sudan Central Doctors’ Committee said in a tweet that at least 56 civilians had been killed and “the number of injured reached 595, including wounded soldiers, among them dozens of critical cases.”
It also said it believed there were dozens of additional deaths among the Sudanese military and its partner-turned-rival, the Rapid Support Forces group, which began battling for control of the country Saturday.
Volker Perthes, the United Nations special representative in Sudan said in a statement that three employees from the World Food Program, which later suspended operations in the country, were killed in clashes that erupted in Kabkabiya, North Darfur.
“My deepest condolences are with their families,” he said in a statement, adding that he was "extremely appalled" by reports of looting of U.N. and other humanitarian premises in Darfur.
Watch: Gunfire interrupts Sudan TV broadcast amid military clashesApril 16, 202301:05
Both the military and the RSF claimed successes in social media posts Sunday, but it was unclear which side had gained the upper hand as skirmishes went on in the capital, Khartoum, as well as other parts of the country.
The Sudanese News Agency posted a statement from the Security Committee of the State of Khartoum on Saturday warning people to “stay in their homes as much as possible.
“The honorable citizens should stay away from military areas and any places that could be a target for the ongoing operations,” it said.
The clashes capped months of heightened tensions between the two forces that had delayed a deal with political parties to get the country back to its short-lived transition to democracy, which was derailed by a military coup in October 2021.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the U.S. was urging Sudan’s military chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the head of the RSF, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Degalo, to “take active measures to reduce tensions and ensure the safety of all civilians.”
“The only way forward is to return to negotiations that support the Sudanese people’s democratic aspirations,” said Blinken, who traveled from Vietnam to Japan Sunday for a meeting with foreign ministers from the Group of Seven.
His comments came after China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday that it was “closely monitoring” the situation and hoped “parties in Sudan will increase dialogue and jointly move forward the political transition process.”
Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its Telegram channel Saturday that it was concerned about the “dramatic events taking place in Sudan,” and it called “on the conflicting sides to show political will and restraint and to take steps toward a cease-fire immediately,” the statement said.
The Wagner Group, a private military contractor with ties to the Kremlin, have operatives stationed in Sudan to support Russia’s interests in the region, according to the Associated Press, which reported that Moscow was also constructing a naval base on Sudan's east coast.
Their calls were echoed by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who called on Twitter for "an immediate cessation of hostilities." The Arab League chief, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and African Union head, Moussa Faki Mahamat, also urged the warring parties to call a cease-fire.
Later on Sunday, the leaders of Egypt and South Sudan spoke by phone and offered to mediate between the two sides in Sudan’s clashes, the Egyptian presidency said in a statement.
It appeared, however, that neither side was willing to negotiate, and on Sunday gunfire was heard in the city of Bahri, according to Reuters. Drone footage captured by a U.S. traveler staying in Khartoum showed towering clouds of smoke over the city's airport, with at least one plane seen burning.
The military and the RSF had previously teamed up to co-orchestrate the coup that overthrew the government in October 2021.
But the recent tensions stem from disagreement over how the RSF, headed by Gen. Dagalo, should be integrated into the armed forces and what authority should oversee the process. On Saturday, the military called for the RSF to be dismantled, describing it as a “rebellious militia.”
The merger is a key condition of Sudan‘s unsigned transition agreement with political groups.
Sudan’s military conflict kills over 50 civiliansApril 16, 202301:49
The country at the crossroads of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa borders six nations and is known for its history of military coups and civil conflicts since it gained independence in the 1950s.
The U.S. placed Sudan under a trade embargo between 1993 and 2017, when the nation was designated a state sponsor of terrorism. Attempts to establish normalization since that point have been halting because of political instability, according to the State Department.
A State Department spokesperson said all U.S. government workers in Sudan are “accounted for and safe.”
The State Department offered this advice to American citizens in Sudan: “U.S. citizens are advised to remain sheltered in place; to attempt to stay at the lower levels of their location, remain away from windows, and attempt to keep away from the roadways; to monitor local media for updates; and to review the Department of State travel advisory for Sudan.”
The spokesperson added: “Due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and closure of the airport, there are no plans for U.S. government-coordinated evacuation at this time. If evacuation of private U.S. citizens becomes necessary, this announcement will be made public by Travel Alert and Travel Advisory.”