Mass looting engulfs Sudanese capital

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Mass looting by armed men and civilians is making life an even greater misery for Khartoum residents trapped by fierce fighting between Sudan's army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), witnesses say.

While the RSF dominates the capital on the ground and the army conducts frequent air strikes, the witnesses said police had simply vanished from the streets when the fighting started in Khartoum on April 15.

"Nobody protects us. No police. No state. The criminals are attacking our houses and taking everything we own," said Sarah Abdelazim, 35, a government employee.

As mayhem grips Khartoum, the army is accusing the RSF of looting banks, gold markets, homes and vehicles. The RSF denies the charge and has released videos showing its men arresting looters. The paramilitary force say some people wear RSF uniforms and steal to make them look bad.

Some witnesses said the RSF was stealing vehicles and setting up camps in people's houses. The RSF also denies this.

More than 17,000 men who were jailed in Sudan's two most dangerous prisons, Kobar and Al Huda, were released early in the fighting. Both sides blame the other for the prison break.

"We are now living in the devil's city. People are looting everything and neither the army nor the RSF nor the police, none of them want to protect ordinary people. Where is the state?" said Mohamed Saleh, 39, a primary school teacher.

The fighting erupted after disputes over plans for the RSF to join the army and the chain of command as part of a political transition. It has caused some 200,000 to flee to nearby countries and over 700,000 have been displaced inside Sudan, triggering a humanitarian crisis that threatens to destabilise the region.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Friday said the figures were more likea million people displaced and a quarter of a million refugees.

Refugees have streamed into Sudan's neighbours, including Chad, Ethiopia and South Sudan, with their own poorly-funded humanitarian crises. Egypt has so far received the highest number of Sudanese refugees with around 110,000 arriving there since the conflict broke out last month, UNHCR spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh said.

"Many of those who have approached us are in a distressed state having been exposed to violence or traumatic conditions in Sudan, and having suffered arduous journeys," he said.

The pace has increased in recent weeks, he added, with some 5000 arriving each day in Egypt.