Advertisement

Sudan army calls on ex-soldiers to re-enlist, sporadic fighting persists

FILE PHOTO: Man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment in Khartoum North

By Nafisa Eltahir and Khalid Abdelaziz

CAIRO/DUBAI (Reuters) -Sudan's army called on Friday for reservists and retired soldiers to re-enlist, a move seemingly aimed at expanding its numbers amid a deadly conflict with a rival paramilitary and one that may fuel fighting despite a truce.

The army initially said all retired soldiers and able men should arm themselves for self-defence, but later clarified this to call on former soldiers to present themselves at their nearest military base.

It was not clear from the statement whether the army regarded the summons as compulsory or voluntary. Sudan has military service but the wording of the statement appeared to suggest that only former full-time soldiers were included.

The move comes as Saudi Arabia and the United states said the warring sides were complying better with a ceasefire that the two countries had brokered and are monitoring, despite reports of sporadic fighting in Khartoum and elsewhere.

The army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began a seven-day truce on Monday intended to allow access to aid and services after battles since mid-April that have killed hundreds and created a refugee crisis.

Despite a drop in fighting, there have still been reports throughout the week of clashes, artillery fire and air strikes.

"Although there was observed use of military aircraft and isolated gunfire in Khartoum, the situation improved from May 24 when the ceasefire monitoring mechanism detected significant breaches of the agreement," a Saudi-U.S. statement said.

Saudi and U.S. representatives "cautioned the parties against further violations and implored them to improve respect for the ceasefire on May 25, which they did," it added.

Residents of Khartoum who have stayed in the city suffer from breakdowns of electricity, water, health and communication services.

Many homes, particularly in well-off areas, have been looted, along with food stores, flour mills and other essential facilities.

"It's all part of the chaos of this war," said Taysir Abdelrahim, who found out from abroad her home was looted. "Even if we were in Sudan there's nothing you can do about it."

One organisation helping children with cancer said a guesthouse it operates had been raided, including its safe and patients' rooms. The children had been previously transferred.

AID DELAYS

The RSF has denied looting, blaming people who have stolen its uniforms. Its fighters are largely bunkered down in Khartoum neighbourhoods, while the army relies on air power.

It is unclear if either side has gained an edge.

Some 1.3 million people have fled their homes, either across borders or within the vast nation.

The Health Ministry has said at least 730 people have died, though the true figure is likely much higher.

With half of Sudan's roughly 49 million people in need of aid, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said grain to feed 2 million for a month was being sent by ship.

However, it is unclear how that and other aid will reach Sudanese without security guarantees and bureaucratic approvals.

"We are in a race against time to get aid to millions of people before the rainy season arrives in June," said Islamic Relief programme manager Eltahir Imam.

The Saudi-U.S. statement said some aid had been delivered to Khartoum on Friday, without giving details. The Red Cross has said it managed to deliver supplies to seven hospitals.

Fighting has flared in several major cities of west Sudan in recent days, according to human rights monitors living in the area, most recently overnight in El Fashir, capital of North Darfur state.

Zalingei and El Geneina have had a communications blackout amid militia attacks. Residents of Nyala said calm had returned after days of fighting, although water was still cut off.

(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir, Khalid Abdelaziz, and Adam MakaryWriting by Clauda Tanios and Nafisa EltahirEditing by Angus McDowall, Andrew Cawthorne and Frances Kerry)