(AFP) – The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have looted everything: cars, lorries and tractors”, laments a resident of a village in al-Jazira state, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the paramilitaries as they push southwards into war-torn Sudan.
The villagers of Al-Jazira hold their breath every time they hear the roar of a car or motorcycle engine, so fearful are they of the dreaded RSF paramilitaries nestling aboard.
“On Saturday, seven individuals armed with machine guns and wearing RSF uniforms knocked on my door”, Abdine tells AFP, declining to reveal his surname for security reasons.
They asked him about the car parked in his garage before “seizing it with their weapons pointed at us”, laments this resident of Hasaheisa, a town located 50 kilometers north of the capital of Al-Jazira, Wad Madani.
The bloody war that has pitted the Sudanese army against the paramilitary RSF in Khartoum for the past eight months has driven half a million people to seek refuge further south, in this agricultural state that until recently had been spared the violence.
But recently, the paramilitaries, who control most of the capital, have been advancing along the highway linking the capital to Wad Madani, taking village after village and terrorizing its inhabitants.
On December 15, they attacked Wad Madani, forcing more than 300,000 people to flee again, within the state of Al-Jazira but also to the neighboring states of Sennar and Gedaref, according to the UN.
Since then, the paramilitaries have continued their relentless descent southwards.
On Saturday, they were spotted “15 kilometers north of Sennar”, 140 kilometers south of Wad Madani, witnesses told AFP.
Looted markets and indiscriminate shooting
“Army planes bombed Rapid Support Forces gatherings to the north of the city, causing panic among residents”, other witnesses reported.
Since the surprise start of the conflict on April 15, the army led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane has mainly played its air trump card: it is the only one to have combat aircraft.
General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo’s FSR, on the other hand, favours mobile troops perched on pick-up trucks.
Everywhere they go, women and girls fear “sexual violence, a recurring threat” in Sudan, says the NGO Save the Children.
On the Hasaheisa market, the doors of the stalls are open and the goods that did not interest the looters are spread out on the ground, an AFP journalist observed.
“Have the RSF come to fight us, the citizens, or to fight the army?” 42-year-old Omar Hussein asked AFP, as stores and vehicles belonging to his family were looted or destroyed.
At another market, Tamboul, halfway between Khartoum and Wad Madani, paramilitaries charged into the market firing indiscriminately, witnesses reported.
”Every room searched”
According to the UN, the conflict has claimed 12,000 lives, a figure that is surely greatly underestimated given the extent to which whole swathes of the country have been cut off from the rest of the world.
It has also displaced 7.1 million people, including 1.5 million in neighboring countries, said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, on Thursday, describing “the largest displacement crisis in the world”.
On Friday, the UN Security Council expressed “concern” at the intensification of violence in Sudan, while “strongly condemning” attacks against civilians and the extension of the conflict “to areas hosting large populations of displaced persons”.
Since the beginning of the war, the two rival camps have accused each other of attacking civilians.
So, says Rabab, who has also hidden her surname, when the paramilitaries “fired bullets in front of the house before entering, we all panicked”.
“They only left after searching every room,” she told AFP.
Al-Tayeb, a resident of a village near Hasaheisa, was surprised when the paramilitaries asked him “a strange question: they wanted to know how I got the money to build my house, inherited from my father and built 35 years ago”.
An answer that, in any case, will matter little to the fighters.
On Saturday, eight people were shot dead by the RSF in the village of Artadhwa because they opposed looting, witnesses told AFP.