Concerns are growing about the possibility of the ongoing conflict in Sudan spreading to new areas, including East Sudan, which had thus far remained unaffected by the clashes occurring in Khartoum and Darfur.
On Monday night, clashes erupted between the national army and the armed factions of local tribes in Port Sudan, raising concerns about a resurgence of violence. Since the outbreak of the war in April, the coastal city has served as an unofficial temporary capital of the country.
The leader of the alliance of parties and movements of the eastern tribes, Sheiba Drarar, claimed that the army unexpectedly fired on their forces outside the headquarters of the National Beja Party, and the troops responded before the situation stabilized.
Drarar, a prominent figure of the Beja tribe, stressed in a press statement that his forces did not initiate the aggression against the army.
He alleged that about 50 military vehicles surrounded their headquarters and interfered with inspecting some trucks loaded with foodstuff, lacking proper documentation.
- Army issues no comment
The army and the Red Sea state government have not commented on the clashes.
It is the first armed conflict in the coastal city since the war broke out between the army and the Rapid Support Forces in April.
An eyewitness in Port Sudan said the area witnessed intense crossfire in the city center between the army and a militia led by Drarar.
Another resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, reported that soldiers spread across the area after dismantling militia checkpoints, though others claimed a return to calm shortly after.
Port Sudan hosts the only currently operational airport in Sudan and serves as a haven for government and UN officials fleeing the battles in Khartoum.
The city had been unaffected by violence until Monday’s clashes.
In the past three weeks, Port Sudan has been a base for Army General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who remained settled in the General Command of the Army in Khartoum until late August, besieged by Rapid Support Forces fighters.
Burhan made six foreign trips departing from Port Sudan, which analysts believe were diplomatic efforts to support his position in case they launched negotiations to end the conflict.
Videos circulated on social media showed clashes with live ammunition in one of the populated districts of Port Sudan.
According to eyewitnesses, the "limited skirmish" caused panic among the citizens.
Hassan Abdullah, a resident of Port Sudan, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the brief clash occurred in the Deem Arab district.
The three states of Eastern Sudan, Red Sea, Kassala, and al-Qadarif, have historically faced tensions due to neglect from central governments.
Tribal and ethnic divisions have resulted in armed conflicts within the region, leaving hundreds of victims.
Earlier, the Rapid Support Forces commander, Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo, warned that his forces could reach any part of Sudan, including the eastern region, where remnants of the ousted regime are reportedly sheltered.
-Battles Intensify in the Capital
Clashes escalated in Khartoum between the army and the Rapid Support Forces, spanning many areas in the three cities: Khartoum, Bahri, and Omdurman.
Eyewitnesses reported that Sudanese military drones targeted Rapid Support Forces' positions in several districts in the East Nile area of the capital, Khartoum.
In response, the Rapid Support Forces launched artillery shells at the signal corps in Bahri and targeted locations in central Khartoum.
Meanwhile, the United Nations fears that Sudan could enter a comprehensive civil war and face the risk of division.
Two UN-affiliated agencies reported on Tuesday that more than 1,200 children have died of suspected measles and malnutrition in Sudan refugee camps, while many thousands more, including newborns, are at risk of death before year-end.
The agencies added that more than five months into the conflict between Sudan's army and the Rapid Support Forces, the country's healthcare sector is on its knees due to direct attacks from the warring parties and shortages of staff and medicines.
Chief of Public Health at the UNHCR Allen Maina told a UN briefing in Geneva that since May, over 1,200 children from Ethiopia and South Sudan under five had died in nine camps in White Nile state, home to one of Sudan's larger refugee populations.
"Unfortunately, we fear numbers will continue rising because of strained resources," he added, adding that partners struggled to vaccinate refugees, stoking the risk of epidemics.
The UN Children's Agency (UNICEF) said it worried that "many thousands of newborns" from among the 333,000 babies known to be due before the end of the year would die.
UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told the same briefing that the kids and their mothers need skilled delivery care.
However, in a country where millions are either trapped in war zones or displaced and where there are grave shortages of medical supplies, such care is becoming less likely by the day.
Every month, some 55,000 children require treatment for the worst form of malnutrition in Sudan, but fewer than one in 50 nutrition centers are functional in the capital, Khartoum, and one in ten in West Darfur, he said.