Gunfire erupts in Sudan; paramilitary group claims to seize palace

Gunfire erupted and troops were deployed in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on Saturday, as witnesses reported clashes between the military and a paramilitary force.

Witnesses, who asked not be named for safety reasons, said they saw armored vehicles and plumes of black smoke in the city, and that armed men were spotted at Merowe Airport north of Khartoum.

The U.S. ambassador to Sudan, John Godfrey, said he was sheltering in place with the embassy team after waking up to “the deeply disturbing sounds of gunfire and fighting.” He said the escalation of tensions into clashes was “extremely dangerous,” calling on senior military leaders to stop the fighting.

In statements on Saturday, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) claimed it had taken control of the presidential palace, Khartoum international airport and an airport in Merowe further north. The RSF accused the army earlier of attacking one of its bases and opening fire including with heavy weapons.

The Sudanese Army said fighting broke out after RSF troops tried to attack its forces and described the RSF’s statements as “lies,” according to the AP.

A Save the Children staff member in Khartoum said there was “a lot of artillery and shooting since just past nine Sudan time.”

“We can hear gunshots in Khartoum and Omdourman. We told all staff to stay home. Our biggest concern is the safety of children and their families,” the staff member said, adding that they could see smoke in the capital.

“There are armored personnel carriers and troops deploying,” said another witness. “I can hear heavy weapons in the distance.”

Sounds of gunfire also rang out in cities near Khartoum, Reuters reported, while the Associated Press said commercial aircraft trying to land in the capital had started turning around.

Tensions have run high for months between Sudan’s army and the RSF paramilitary group which have shared power. Turmoil has buffeted Sudan since a military coup brought down the country’s civilian government in 2021.

Sudan “is on the precipice civil war,” said Alan Boswell, director for the Horn of Africa for the International Crisis Group. He also wrote in a tweet that the situation would require “high-level diplomacy” after days of escalations between the armed forces and the RSF.

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