The city of Port Sudan, under the control of the Sudanese army, is no longer secure for Sovereign Council Chairman Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, as it witnessed violent clashes on Monday evening between Sudanese forces and tribal militia elements, according to witnesses, in the first battles in the coastal city that had still been untouched by the war raging in Sudan since April.
Port Sudan holds great significance for al-Burhan, especially as it is the city where he had the opportunity to undertake an external tour to garner support for his forces, as Khartoum‘s airports are no longer safe. Additionally, the city hosts government officials who fled the capital following the intensification of fighting.
Recent attention has turned to the coastal city after officials from the Sovereign Council hinted at the possibility of forming a war government, leading many to believe that Port Sudan would become the capital of the new government if Khartoum fell entirely into the hands of the Rapid Support Forces.
Observers interpreted the army’s targeting of sovereign ministry premises and vital government sites as part of a plan to transform the capital from Khartoum, after destroying its infrastructure, into Port Sudan. However, the latter has proven to be as insecure as al-Burhan feared, and it is now experiencing a state of chaos and conflict.
The commander of the Rapid Support Forces, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as “Hemeti,” asserted that his forces were capable of invading eastern Sudan and repelling the army but emphasized that he still held out hope for political solutions to spare the Sudanese people the consequences of war.
Since April 15, Sudan has been in a violent conflict between the army led by al-Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces led by Dagalo.
A witness in the city overlooking the Red Sea reported “an exchange of gunfire between the army and a militia led by Shibah Darrar,” a leader of the Bija tribe in the center of Port Sudan. He said that “soldiers had been deployed in the area after dismantling checkpoints set up by the militia,” while others reported a “return to calm” after a short period of clashes.
Port Sudan houses the only remaining operational airport in Sudan and hosts government officials and international figures who fled the capital, Khartoum, to escape the fighting.
Port Sudan remained untouched by violence until clashes broke out on Monday night.
Over the past three weeks, Port Sudan has become a base for al-Burhan, who remained holed up in the army’s headquarters in Khartoum, besieged by Rapid Support Forces fighters.
Now, the chief of the Sudanese army has conducted six trips from Port Sudan, an initiative that analysts view as a diplomatic attempt to strengthen his position in case negotiations are held to end the conflict.
Shibah Darrar, who initially supported the army at the start of the war, rescinded his harsh criticisms of government officials who moved to eastern Sudan, but he did not announce an alliance with the Rapid Support Forces. However, other tribes in eastern Sudan have pledged their support to the army.
Since the start of the fighting in April, approximately 7,500 people have been killed, and the actual numbers are likely much higher. Around five million people have been forced to leave their homes and move within Sudan or cross borders into neighboring countries, especially Egypt and Chad.