The US ambassador and embassy staff in Sudan are ‘sheltering in place’ as the army and a powerful paramilitary group exchange gunfire in the capital Khartoum.

Sustained fighting broke out on Saturday amid simmering tensions between the military and Rapid Support Forces militia.

The RSF said on Saturday it had taken control of the presidential palace, the residence of army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Khartoum’s international airport.

Sustained firing broke out on Saturday amid simmering tensions between the military and Rapid Support Forces militia. Pictured: Smoke rises above buildings in Khartoum

The US ambassador John Godfrey tweeted: ‘I just arrived late last night in Khartoum and woke up to the deeply disturbing sounds of gunfire and fighting. 

‘I am currently sheltering in place with the Embassy team, as Sudanese throughout Khartoum and elsewhere are doing.’

The sounds of heavy firing could be heard in a number of areas, including central Khartoum and the neighborhood of Bahri.

In a statement, the RSF militia accused the army of attacking its forces at one of its bases in south Khartoum and claimed they had seized Khartoum airport. 

They also said they seized an airport and air base in the northern city of Marawi, some 350 kilometers (215 miles) northwest of Khartoum.

The US ambassador John Godfrey tweeted to say he and his staff at the embassy in Khartoum are sheltering in place

Sudanese paramilitaries said on April 15 that the regular army has entered their camps in south Khartoum and laid siege to paramilitary forces there

In a separate statement on Saturday, the Sudanese Army said the fighting broke out after RSF troops tired to attack its forces in the southern part of the capital. 

In a later statement, the military declared the RSF a ‘rebel force,’ describing the paramilitary’s statements as ‘lies.’

In their statement, the RSF said it was contacted by three former rebel leaders who hold government positions in an apparent bid to de-escalate the conflict. 

The clashes come as tensions between the military and the RSF have escalated in recent months, forcing a delay in the signing of an internationally backed deal with political parties to revive the country’s democratic transition.

The tensions stem from a disagreement over how the RSF should be integrated into the military and which authority should oversee the process.

The merger is a key condition of Sudan’s unsigned transition agreement.

However, the army-RSF rivalry dates back to the rule of autocratic president Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in 2019.

Under the former president, the paramilitary force, led by powerful General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, grew out of former militias, known as the Janjaweed, which carried out a brutal crackdown in Sudan’s Darfur region during the decades of conflict there.

Under the former president, the RSF paramilitary force, led by powerful General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo (pictured), grew out of former militias

In a rare televised speech on Thursday, a top army general warned of potential clashes with the RSF, accusing it of deploying forces in Khartoum and other areas of Sudan without the army’s consent.

Sudan civilian parties that had signed an initial power-sharing deal with the two groups have now called on them to cease hostilities.

The civilian parties also urged international and regional players to urgently help stop the bloodshed.

Commercial aircraft trying to land at Khartoum International Airport began turning around to head back to their originating airport. 

Flights from Saudi Arabia turned back after nearly landing at Khartoum International Airport, flight tracking data showed on Saturday.

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