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5 entire families reportedly among 39 civilians killed by shelling as war rages in Sudan's Darfur region

Shelling has killed five entire families in Sudan's battle-scarred Darfur region, a human rights activist told CBS News on Monday as the country's army chief made his first trip abroad since the outbreak of war in April.

Medics and witnesses told the AFP news agency that 39 civilians, most of them women and children, were killed on on August 22 by the shelling in the city of Nyala, in Sudan's South Darfur state, where fighting between the army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has intensified.

A picture taken on June 16, 2023, shows a covered body outside a house in the West Darfur state capital El Geneina, amid ongoing fighting between two generals in war-torn Sudan. AFP via Getty Images

The victims, including all members of five families, were killed in just one day, Gouja Ahmed, a human rights activist originally from Nyala, told CBS News on Monday, adding that some other families in the area had lost three quarters of their members.

Images posted online by Ahmed show dozens of bodies on the ground covered in shrouds, as well as men placing the dead in a large grave.

Darfur has been plagued by deadly clashes since war erupted in the region 20 years ago and the feared Janjaweed militia— precursors of the RSF — were unleashed on ethnic minority rebels.

More than 50,000 people have fled Nyala since August 11 this year due to the latest round of violence, according to the United Nations.

There was also violence in Sudan's capital city of Khartoum late Monday, as  the army bombarded several RSF positions, residents told AFP.

"No time for discussion now"

Sudan's army chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was to hold talks Tuesday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a key ally, on the developments in his war-ravaged country and bilateral ties, according to the Sovereign Council, Sudan's highest authority.

Burhan, who traded his trademark military fatigues and green beret for a suit and tie, was greeted by Sisi Tuesday in Egypt's northern coastal city of El Alamein after flying from Port Sudan, Egyptian media reported.

Port Sudan, which has been spared the violence tearing the country apart, is where government officials and the U.N. have relocated their operations. It is also the site of Sudan's only functioning airport.

The war between Burhan and his former deputy-turned-rival Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the RSF, has raged since April 15. It has spread from Khartoum and Darfur in the west to Kordofan and Jazira state, killing thousands and forcing millions to flee their homes.

Americans fleeing Sudan's civil unrest sail across the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia 02:13

For months, the RSF had besieged Burhan inside military headquarters in Khartoum, but last week the general made his first public foray outside the compound to review troops. On Monday he made a fiery address to troops in Port Sudan, vowing to fight the RSF to "end the rebellion."

"We are mobilizing everywhere to defeat this rebellion, defeat this treason, by these mercenaries who come from all over the world," Burhan told cheering soldiers. "There is no time for discussion now. We are concentrating all our efforts on the war, to put an end to the rebellion." 

His comments came a day after Dagalo released a statement detailing a 10-point "vision" to end the war and build "a new state."

The plan calls for "civilian rule based on democratic norms" and "a single, professional, national military institution" — the very sticking point which turned the former allies into rivals. Before they fell out, Burhan, backed by Dagalo, became Sudan's de facto ruler in a 2021 coup that derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule.

The coup upended a transition painstakingly negotiated between military and civilian leaders following the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Burhan's latest trip follows multiple diplomatic efforts to broker an end to the violence in Sudan, with a series of U.S.- and Saudi-brokered ceasefires being systematically violated. In July, Egypt, which shares borders with Sudan and has been flooded by refugees from its neighbor, hosted a crisis meeting attended by African leaders to seek a solution.

Conservative estimates from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data project show that nearly 5,000 people have been killed in the conflict, but the real figure is thought to be much higher, and the United Nations says more than 4.6 million people have been displaced by the fighting both inside and outside Sudan.

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