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Fighting between two warring factions could suck Sudan into a wider conflict

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

This, so far, is the sound of the cease-fire in Sudan.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOMB EXPLODING)

DETROW: Sudan's army is not backing down. And the powerful paramilitary group they're at war with is not backing down, either. Nearly 200 people have been killed and thousands more injured after four days of conflict in the capital of Khartoum and across Sudan. The two warring generals at the heart of the conflict have brought one of Africa's largest countries to a standstill. NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu joins us now from Lagos. Hey, Emmanuel.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Hi.

DETROW: And this cease-fire was put in place to try and get some help to millions in need of humanitarian assistance. But so far, it seems the fighting has not stopped, right?

AKINWOTU: Yes. It's actually the second time the cease-fire has been called and, at least so far, has failed to hold. And the impact on people is profound and getting worse by the hour. You know, the fighting has turned homes in Sudan, residential streets, much of the country into war zones. Some hospitals have been taken over by fighters, who are running out of supplies. And there are students trapped in schools, families sheltering at home, struggling for food, struggling for power and water. You know, since the conflict started, I've been talking to a woman called Muhjah Khateeb. She's 42, and she's staying alone at home in Khartoum. On yesterday's show, she shared how she's been struggling. You know, she misses her son, who can't make it back home because of the fighting. Today I checked in with her again just after the cease-fire was meant to start.

MUHJAH KHATEEB: They said there is a truce now, but there is no truce. I can hear the gunshot, and I hear an airplane. Yeah. It's very close. I'm not sure if you can hear the sound of the bombing. I'm in my balcony now.

AKINWOTU: You know, like other people I've spoken to, she's just tired and so angry that this has been inflicted on them and by two generals who seem bent on serving their own interests rather than the country's.

DETROW: Tell us more about these two generals. Who are they, and what are their endgames here?

AKINWOTU: Well, first, there's General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. He leads the army and is essentially the de facto leader of Sudan. This is him speaking in 2021, promising he delivers Sudan's first free elections.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABDEL FATTAH AL-BURHAN: (Speaking Arabic).

AKINWOTU: And this is Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti. He's effectively been Burhan's deputy up until now. And here he is speaking to Al Jazeera this weekend after the fighting began.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOHAMED HAMDAN DAGALO: (Speaking Arabic).

AKINWOTU: He leads the notorious and powerful militia group called the Rapid Support Forces. It largely evolved from the Janjaweed militia that was responsible for atrocities in Darfur. You know, decades of warfare that he led on behalf of the Sudanese government made him extremely wealthy and powerful. Both of these men, these generals - they thrived under the old regime, under Omar al-Bashir, and then they helped depose him after the revolution in 2019. That revolution, you know, inspired millions of people in Sudan and the wider world and brought this promise of, like, a new, democratic Sudan.

But that promise under these men has been squandered. And, you know, after Bashir, there was briefly a civilian-led government, but both these generals actually launched a coup against that government two years ago, in 2021. Then they insisted to the Sudanese people and convinced the international community that they could lead the country back to civilian rule. But now we're locked in a war for power and supremacy between them.

DETROW: That's Emmanuel Akinwotu following the latest on Sudan from Lagos, Nigeria. Thank you so much.

AKINWOTU: Thanks, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF STATIK SELEKTAH SONG, "TIME FEAT. JACK HARLOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emmanuel Akinwotu