Fighting reaches Sudan’s Wad Madani, once considered a safe haven for displaced

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(LONDON) — Thousands of people have been forced to flee as fighting reached one of Sudan’s largest cities, Wad Madani.

Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, said on social media that the RSF have taken control of Wad Madani, capital of Sudan’s el-Gezira state. Videos posted on social media appeared to show fighters driving along the city’s streets, singing in celebration.

Fighting first erupted in Sudan on April 15, a culmination of weeks of tensions linked to a planned transition to civilian rule. Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), and Dagalo — once allies who jointly orchestrated a military coup in 2021 — are engaged in a vicious power struggle.

The RSF’s advance into Wad Madani comes following days of heavy fighting — including airstrikes and shootings — between the RSF and the SAF. The Armed Forces announced on Tuesday its soldiers have withdrawn from their positions in the city.

Local authorities have announced a state of emergency, imposing a curfew in Wad Madani effective from Dec. 15 until further notice.

As fighting rages, thousands have been forced to flee the city which was considered an oasis and “safe haven” in central Sudan, hosting thousands of persons, including thousands from Sudan’s capital Khartoum, who had been earlier displaced by the war.

“I am a Khartoum resident, and we had to flee in April to Wad Madani,” Omnia Elgunaid told ABC News over the phone. “And now I had to flee Wad Madani again to a nearby village.”

“My friends are scattered, some of them I cannot reach them, and I have no idea what happened to them if they’re okay, if they’re alive or not,” Elgunaid added.

Elgunaid is just one of the estimated 14,000 to 15,000 civilians who have been newly displaced from the Madani locality, according to the International Office for Migration’s (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix.

Along with serving as a safe area for thousands displaced civilians, Wad Madani was a crucial humanitarian aid hub, causing fears humanitarian operations may be in jeopardy.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said the WHO is “extremely concerned” at the unfolding situation, announcing the WHO’s operations hub is temporarily suspended.

“We’re witnessing one of the largest displacements in the world… the health system is at a breaking point, while the needs are sharply rising,” he said.

In a statement sent to ABC News, Doctors Without Borders said hospitals have been receiving wounded people since Friday: “We are particularly concerned about the impact of the intensified violence on the people who live here, as well as the danger of repeated displacement for those who have already fled from other areas.”

After about eight months of fighting, at least 12,000 people have been killed, according to United Nations figures. At least 6.7 million people have been displaced within and outside Sudan’s borders since fighting broke out in April 15.

According to UN Relief Chief Martin Griffiths, over half a year of war has plunged Sudan into “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history.”

In a statement sent to ABC News, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said it is “deeply concerned” by reports of the RSF’s advance in Gezira state and against Wad Madani.

“The current RSF offensive threatens vulnerable civilians and disrupts humanitarian assistance efforts,” the spokesperson said. “We urge the RSF to cease these actions, which are inconsistent with its stated claims that it is fighting to protect Sudan’s people.”

They added, “We urge SAF General Burhan and RSF General Hemedti to hold those responsible for attacks on civilians to account, and to abide by their IGAD summit commitments of an unconditional ceasefire and a face-to-face meeting between them.”

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