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Sudan crisis: Escalating violence in al-Fasher is causing grave fears

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have an update on the war in Sudan. This war has lasted more than a year. The army is on one side, and on the other is an armed group that used to be their allies. The war has killed many thousands of people, and now violence is escalating in one regional capital, which we'll hear about from NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu. Good morning.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: There are so many conflicts in the world that have upset so many people. I feel we need to review this one a little bit. Who's fighting who?

AKINWOTU: Yes, you know, this brutal war has been going on for over a year between the army, which really was the major institution in Sudan before the war, and the Rapid Support Forces - this paramilitary group that were allied with the army. This group is really a legacy of the former dictator Omar al-Bashir. You know, he was in control of the country for decades, and it's really hard to think that, you know, just four years ago, the brink of change - there was a revolution that toppled Bashir's government, and it led to a civilian-led government. But that government suffered a coup by the army and the RSF, and now these two groups are fighting for control of the country.

INSKEEP: OK, so these armed groups took over and then turned against each other, and now there's a lot of focus on Al Fashir, which is a regional capital. What's happening there?

AKINWOTU: Yes, there's been fighting in the east and northern parts of the city in the last few days, with the RSF attacking military bases. There have been growing reports of airstrikes, attacks on civilians, too. And, you know, in camps on the outskirts of the city, there have been an influx of refugees, many of them reportedly shot or injured. I actually spoke to Claire Nicolet. She's the head of the Sudan mission for the aid group MSF, which is one of the few groups there. And she was in Al Fashir a few weeks ago and in an aid camp called Zamzam on the outskirts of the city, and she described just how critical things are there.

CLAIRE NICOLET: The current situation in Zamzam is more and more dire. The camp is around 400,000 people now. We are receiving, especially in the past two weeks, lots of gunshots and wounded from air strikes.

INSKEEP: OK, I want to understand a little bit better the groups that are fighting here. Sudan's army, I get that - they're the army. Who are these other people - the RSF - that used to be their friends?

AKINWOTU: Well, they evolved from this notorious group called the Janjaweed, a largely Arab militia group that committed atrocities in the Darfur region to the west of Sudan in a genocide 20 years ago - you know, a horrific spate of violence over two to three years - and now the RSF are leading a resurgence of this violence in Darfur now. Recently, I spoke to Ulf Laessing. He's an expert on the Sahel region for KAS, and he's been at the Chadian border with Sudan, where there's been more than a million refugees from Darfur.

ULF LAESSING: I met, the last few days, dozens of refugees from Sudan, mostly from the Masalit tribe. It's an African tribe that's targeted by the RSF, Rapid Support Forces. They all told about mass killings, rape. In every family, you know, several members are missing or killed.

AKINWOTU: So the violence in this region is just getting worse, and the humanitarian crisis is getting worse. And the war is being fueled by a range of outside actors. You know, basically every border along Sudan is facilitating the movement of arms into the country, and there's been a year of failed diplomatic talks. And, sadly, there's not much sign that there's any meaningful progress at this stage.

INSKEEP: NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu. Thanks for the update - really appreciate it.

AKINWOTU: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.