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The conflict in Sudan is intensifying, with paramilitary forces surrounding Al Fasher

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Security and humanitarian crises in Sudan continue to intensify. The northern Darfur region is in turmoil, with the city of Al-Fashir under siege. It's surrounded by a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, who've been fighting against the Sudanese Armed Forces for more than a year now. The violence has killed thousands and displaced millions. Zeinab Mohammed Salih is a reporter based in Sudan who just returned from Al-Fashir. She joins us now. Welcome to the program.

ZEINAB MOHAMMED SALIH: Thank you.

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RASCOE: We've been hearing really alarming reports out of Sudan from the U.N. that people are eating grass and peanut shells to survive. Can you tell us what you saw?

SALIH: Yeah, it's very visible if you are in Al-Fashir that many people are actually struggling to get food. And that's especially among the internally displaced people who have been living in the IDPs camps for more than 20 years now. And it's visible that children are suffering from mannutrition and women, as well, pregnant women.

RASCOE: So why are the Rapid Support Forces so intent on capturing the city?

SALIH: If they're able to take Al-Fashir, that will be the entire region of Darfur, which has the size of France, is going to be under the control of the Rapid Support Forces, meaning they will have access to Sudan's borders with Libya, with Chad, with Central African Republic and also South Sudan. Al-Fashir is very strategic and very important for them. Some people are talking about maybe this is going to be a step for a division in the country.

RASCOE: And so, I mean, stepping back, you know, let's remind our listeners of who exactly is fighting and for what. This is really just two military groups fighting for control, right?

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SALIH: Yes. But there are other groups, as well. I saw about 17 armed groups, all of them in Al-Fashir. And they fight each other from time to time. And some of them used to be rebels against the government in Khartoum, and now they allied themselves with the Sudanese army. Some of them, you know, remain neutral, and some of them are close to the RSF. You know, like, there's so many checkpoints. They stop people. They take money. And they arrest people, so many people disappeared. They have their own detention centers. There's only one hospital is functioning in the southern part of Al-Fashir.

RASCOE: We spoke to you when this war first started in the spring of 2023. Can I ask you to just reflect a bit on what it's been like to cover this level of tragedy?

SALIH: It's just, you know, very sad. Me, myself - I'm from here. I'm from Sudan. And at the beginning, when we were speaking last year, I was with my family in the same place. Now my family and I - we separated. Everyone is in a different place. They had to flee Omdurman, my city. I came back to Omdurman just recently, and I couldn't go and see my house, for example, because the army kicked out everyone living in our area. We are kind of OK because we left our houses kind of safely.

Other parts of the country - I was in West Darfur state and Geneina, for example, where an ethnic cleansing and accusations of maybe genocide were against the RSF. You know, it's just heartbreaking, you know, talking to people in West Darfur and North Darfur and in eastern Chad. At the beginning, I had a hope that maybe there's going to be some kind of international intervention to stop this war. But now I'm losing the hope, actually. I don't think - they just let us like this. It's completely an ignored war now. And it looks like it will continue for a long time.

RASCOE: Zeinab Mohammed Salih is a reporter based in Sudan. Zeinab, thank you so much for all the work that you do.

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SALIH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.