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'Where is the state?': Mass looting engulfs Sudanese capital

By Khalid Abdelaziz

DUBAI (Reuters) - Mass looting by armed men and civilians is making life an even greater misery for Khartoum residents trapped by fierce fighting between Sudan's army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), witnesses said.

While the RSF dominates the capital on the ground and the army conducts frequent airstrikes, the witnesses said police had simply vanished from the streets when the fighting started in Khartoum on April 15.

"Nobody protects us. No police. No state. The criminals are attacking our houses and taking everything we own," said Sarah Abdelazim, 35, a government employee.

As mayhem grips Khartoum, the army accuses the RSF of looting banks, gold markets, homes and vehicles. The RSF denies the charge and has released videos showing its men arresting looters. The paramilitary force say some people wear RSF uniforms and steal to make them look bad.

Some witnesses said the RSF was stealing vehicles and setting up camps in people's houses. The RSF also denies this.

More than 17,000 men who were jailed in Sudan's two most dangerous prisons -- Kobar and Al Huda -- were released early in the fighting. Both sides blame the other for the prison break.

'THE DEVIL'S CITY'

"We are now living in the devil's city. People are looting everything and neither the army nor the RSF nor the police, none of them want to protect ordinary people. Where is the state?" said Mohamed Saleh, 39, a primary school teacher.

The fighting erupted after disputes over plans for the RSF to join the army and the chain of command as part of a political transition. It has caused some 200,000 to flee to nearby countries and over 700,000 have been displaced inside Sudan, triggering a humanitarian crisis that threatens to destabilise the region.

Intense battles have continued to rage in Khartoum and its sister cities of Bahri and Omdurman despite Saudi and U.S.-brokered talks between the army and the RSF in Jeddah aimed at securing humanitarian access and a ceasefire.

Most attention is focused on the battles, not the chaos which is demoralising the population, or the rapidly depleting supplies of food, cash, and other essentials that drive much of the looting.

Huge groups have been seen looting mobile phone, gold, and clothes stores.

Factories including a wheat mill belonging to DAL Group, the country's largest conglomerate, were looted in Sudan's main industrial zone, which contains key food and industrial manufacturers.

"They were brandishing machetes, they wave them in the air," said Qassim Mahmoud, a bank general manager who passed through the zone as he fled Khartoum for Egypt and saw people carrying away sacks of wheat and large appliances.

Three commodities and storage facilities were burned down in Omdurman. On Thursday, people could be seen in a video stealing mattresses and clothes and loading them onto trucks. Others used donkey carts.

"Yesterday thieves came and burgled my house in Omdurman. Who do I complain to," said Ahmed Zahar, 42, a trader.

Many Khartoum residents have put posts on social media seeking assistance in retrieving stolen cars.

At one bank where money had already been looted, people were also seizing televisions and furniture, said a Reuters witness.

Aid warehouses have also been targeted by the looters.

Medical aid agency MSF, one of few entities continuing to provide aid in Khartoum, said armed men had broken into its warehouse in Khartoum on Tuesday and taken two cars filled with supplies.

(Additional reportinb by Maggie Michael in Wadi Halfa, Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Gareth Jones)