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Anglican cathedral compound in Khartoum raided, as rival security forces clash

19 April 2023


People walk past shuttered shops in Khartoum, Sudan, on Monday, where heavy fighting has taken place between fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces militia

People walk past shuttered shops in Khartoum, Sudan, on Monday, where heavy fighting has taken place between fighting between the Sudanese Armed Force...

THE compound of the Anglican cathedral in Khartoum was raided on Monday night, as rival security forces clashed in the Sudanese capital, the Archbishop of Sudan, the Most Revd Ezekiel Kondo, has reported.

Since Saturday, dozens of civilians have been killed amid fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces loyal to the head of the military government, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and those of his deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia.

On Tuesday, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said that he was in daily contact with Archbishop Kondo, who had texted that morning to say that the cathedral compound had been raided the previous night, “and their cars destroyed using firearms”.

The diocese of Leeds has a link with Sudan which goes back more than 40 years, and they hold regular exchanges (News, 18 April 2019). “There is a lot of fear,” he said. “The large Sudanese community in our churches here is fearful. At the moment, we pray hard and keep in touch.” He had spoken to the Minister for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in the House of Lords, he said.

On Thursday, the diocese of Salisbury, which is also linked to Sudan and in contact with Archbishop Kondo, confirmed that thousands of civilians had been forced to flee, including the Archbishop, who had evacuated to safety 42 children who had been sheltering in the cathedral.

Ian Woodward, who chairs the Salisbury-Sudans Partnership, said that the “considerable optimism” for an agreement towards a unified national army had been dashed in recent weeks. He said of the evacuation: “We can only imagine the terror of such a walk with the constant noise of gunfire and air attacks, picking their way through smoke and rubble. He [Archbishop Kondo] says they have water but very little food and the only power (probably solar) is in short supply but was just enough to recharge his phone.”

Rising numbers of casualties have been reported in the capital, Khartoum, but also in several other regions. Citing the authorities, the UN reported on Tuesday that 270 people had been killed and 2700 had been injured.

The World Health Organization reports that the fighting has forced the closure of nine hospitals in Khartoum, and there are also reports that health facilities have been looted or used for military purposes. Three employees of the World Food Programme have been killed in Darfur, it was announced on Sunday.

The Sudanese military seized power in a coup in October 2021 (News, 29 October 2021), 18 months after protests led to the overthrow by the military of President Omar al-Bashir, who had been in power for three decades (News, 18 April 2019). A joint civilian-military government was dissolved.

The coup triggered widespread protests, which continued for months, and the UN condemned repeatedly the “unnecessary and disproportionate use of force” against protesters. The UN’s human-rights office estimates that more than 100 people have been killed, and more than 8000 have been injured by security forces, who have been granted extended powers and immunity from prosecution.

Last December, a new pact was signed between military and civilian leaders, creating a new “civilian transitional authority” in preparation for elections after two years. Among the key issues to be resolved was the merger of security forces; last month, the UN secretary-general’s special representative to Sudan, Volker Perthes, warned of rising tensions between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The RSF grew out of the Janjaweed militia, which is accused of carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in Darfur, starting in 2003. The International Criminal Court is investigating criminal acts committed during the Darfur conflict.

On Tuesday, the operations leader for Open Doors in East Africa, Fikiru Mehari, said that the charity’s sources in Sudan had also reported the raid on the cathedral. The two warring parties had denied responsibility, he said.

The situation on the ground was “dire”; people were being forced to stay inside to avoid the crossfire. “This kind of context will create anarchy,” he said. “The country has just come out from decades-long sharia law. Many villages around the church often use the break of law to attack Christians.” There was a lack of electricity and water, he said, and bombings were under way. Hospitals had been targeted.

The conflict was not unexpected, he said, but “long awaited”. People had not necessarily expected it to take place in Khartoum, but “the tension between the two forces. . . was there.” General Dagalo, better known as “Hemedti”, was “famous”, he said, for his involvement not only in Darfur, but also in Yemen and Libya. “So, of course, people were expecting this to happen.”

Since the coup, figures from the previous regime — “Bashir sympathisers” — had appeared back in office, he said. “There is a feeling that Islamists will use the opportunity to sell the agenda, to say ‘You see the democracy you are calling for is this — you are now in a civil war.’ . . . The beneficiaries of this will be the Islamists.”

Life for Christians had looked more positive in the wake of President Bashir’s removal in 2019, he said, but currently “Christians have less and less hope.” Prayers were sought for the cessation of hostilities, for safety, for wisdom for Sudan’s leaders, and for the situation not to serve the “Islamist agenda”.

The conflict in Sudan is taking place against a humanitarian crisis. The UN Food Agency estimates that one third of Sudan’s population — 15 million people — faces “acute food insecurity”. Since the beginning of the year, 900 people have been killed in inter-communal conflicts, more than 260,000 people have been displaced, and 349,000 have been affected by devastating floods. The Red Cross reports that it is currently impossible to deliver aid in and around the capital.

On Sunday, Pope Francis prayed that “arms may be laid down and that dialogue may prevail, so that together, they are able to return to the path of peace and concord”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury posted a message on Twitter on Monday: “We hold the nation of Sudan in our prayers at this time. Lord God, protect the civilians, bring peace to this appalling crisis in the nation’s life, and allow political stability to return.”

A vigil is to be held in Bradford Cathedral on Tuesday. Among the speakers will be the Revd Ludia Shukai, NSM of Great Horton and Lidget Green, who is thought to be the first Sudanese woman ordained in the Church of England.

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