It was a funeral no one imagined. The body of Sadiq Abbas was buried in an unmarked grave in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, in a hurry, shortly after dawn.
Awad Al-Zubair, a neighbor of the deceased, said that even the few family members and neighbors who were able to attend were looking around for any warning or indication of nearby gunfire, which fortunately did not happen.
After nearly four months of bloody street battles between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces, funerals have become almost impossible in Khartoum. Bodies are rotting in the capital, residents and local medical organizations say, amid a conflict that shows no signs of abating.
Al-Zubayr said: “If you ask me where his (neighbor Abbas’s) body is buried precisely, I cannot tell you under these circumstances.”
There is insufficient data on casualties in Sudan. Sudan’s health minister, Haitham Mohamed Ibrahim, said in June that the conflict had killed more than 3,000 people, but there has been no update on the numbers since then. The real number is likely to be much higher, according to Sudanese doctors and activists.
Likewise, no medical group presented a number of unburied corpses, especially with the discovery of mass graves and widespread ethnic killings in the state of South Darfur.
Bodies in a hospital in Khartoum (archive)
For its part, the Sudan Doctors Syndicate announced that most of the civilian casualties in Khartoum were killed in crossfire, as the capital turned into an urban battlefield. Others died because they could not get treatment, while some were said to have died of starvation, trapped by the armed battles taking place in the streets.
At another time, their funerals would have been of great importance and would last for days. It is common in Sudan for thousands to perform funerals for the dead, and then bury them in tombs dug by family members. Seven former and current residents of the capital told The Associated Press that the conflict between the army and the RSF shattered that tradition. Three of them spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Many said it proved impossible to access any of the nearly two dozen cemeteries in the capital when they sought to bury family members, friends or others.
For example, more than 100 university students were arrested at the University of Khartoum when the conflict broke out on 15 April. A colleague of the student, Khaled, said that he was hit by a stray bullet in the chest, and died shortly after his injury.
He said, on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted: “We dragged his body to the basement of a building to prevent it from rotting.” Then, with others, he shrouded the body and buried it on the university campus under a tree, after the approval of his family.
Qasim Amin Oshi, a resident of the Beit Al-Mal district of Omdurman, on the other side of the Nile River from Khartoum, stated that the RSF prevented the neighbors from burying a family member in a nearby cemetery, and instead buried the woman, who died of natural causes. in a school yard.
Most residents confirmed that the Rapid Support Forces are often the cause of unrest. In the early days of the conflict, the army bombed the camps of the Rapid Support Forces in the capital, which prompted the latter to storm civilian homes and turn them into bases. The army then bombed residential areas with air and artillery, according to what the Associated Press reported about residents..and according to United Nations data. More than 2.15 million people have fled Khartoum State.
Al-Zubair said that his neighbor Abbas was shot dead after the Rapid Support Forces raided his house and discovered that one of his brothers was an army officer and the other an intelligence officer. He added that after Abbas’s body was transferred to the hospital, the Rapid Support Forces prevented his burial, without giving reasons, but then agreed to the family’s request.
However, he went on to say that most people were either afraid to attend the funeral on June 30, or did not know about it, as the country has been suffering from electricity and internet cuts since the outbreak of the conflict. “Mobile phones are useless in communication, like a packet of cigarettes,” Zubair said.
For his part, Youssef Ezzat, a spokesman for the Rapid Support Forces, told the Associated Press that the command did not issue orders to prevent the burial of civilians, and that if burials are prohibited, it is because of the fierce fighting taking place in the vicinity.
Residents described the Rapid Support Forces as outlaws, and that their motives are often “boredom and entertainment”, but sometimes they “behave well”.
A resident of South Khartoum said that although they robbed residents of his uncle’s neighborhood, a group of RSF fighters offered to move and bury the uncle’s body when he died of natural causes last July.
Since June, the Sudanese Red Crescent has been collecting corpses and burying them in many areas of the capital. He said he recovered and buried at least 102 bodies, most of them of unknown fighters from both sides. One of the employees of the Red Crescent said that the bodies that were collected were photographed and numbers were issued for them.
Transporting a dead body in Khartoum
But with many battleground neighborhoods inaccessible, thousands of corpses are likely to remain unburied in the capital, according to Save the Children. Last month, a group from the Bahri neighborhood north of the capital called on medical groups to collect the bodies of about 500 RSF fighters that had decomposed on the roads. In recent weeks, an Associated Press journalist has counted at least 26 bodies, most of them civilians and the Rapid Support Forces, lying in the streets of southern Khartoum. He said that near Al-Zubair’s residence in Al-Sahafa neighborhood in Khartoum, one of the bodies lying in the street decomposed to the point that the bones appeared and became visible to the eye.
Unidentified corpses are usually taken to morgues. Dr. Attia Abdullah Attia, secretary of the Sudan Medical Association, said that at least four hospitals in the capital have stopped working because of the fighting, while only five others are still functioning out of about two dozen hospitals in the city.
With the advent of the rainy season in Sudan, international organizations and human rights groups fear the possibility of more deaths and more damage to infrastructure. Last year’s floods killed dozens.
Rotting corpses can also contribute to the contamination of water sources. “Many people in the capital now drink from wells or directly from the Nile River, desperate to get clean water,” said Dr. Sadiq Al-Nour, the local director of Islamic Relief Worldwide.