Like many Sudanese forced to flee their homes amid raging street battles, Mohamed said that when he finally returned to his apartment, he found heavily armed paramilitaries had moved in.
After cautiously approaching his Khartoum apartment block, he discovered that “the entire building had been turned into a military barracks filled with weapons and ammunition.”
Nearly a month of heavy fighting has turned Khartoum into a war zone, with the city’s five million people enduring artillery barrages, gunfire, air strikes and anti-aircraft fire.
Many have taken refuge in their homes amid power outages and a lack of clean water, food and medicine, but many have also been forcibly evicted.
The northern suburb where Mohamed lived has become a major battleground in the war between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
After Mohamed’s family spent terrifying days at home, waking and sleeping to deafening explosions and gunfire outside, RSF fighters arrived to evict them.
“They knocked on the door and asked us to leave,” said the 54-year-old, who, like others interviewed by AFP for this article, asked not to be identified by full name, citing security concerns.
Before leaving home, Mohamed’s family took what they could carry and locked the doors, he added.
When he returned days later to collect some belongings, Mohamed was questioned by RSF paramilitaries whom he had found sitting inside his apartment.
– Fighters ‘in our kitchen’ –
Witnesses in Khartoum say RSF fighters have often taken up positions on tree-lined residential streets, with soldiers hiding unmarked trucks under trees.
Men in military uniform patrol in trucks mounted with heavy machine guns.
Another man, Babiker, 44, said he fled his home in central Khartoum amid relentless gunfire, only to return two weeks later to find it occupied by the RSF.
“I found more than 20 paramilitaries living there,” he said, adding that he was interrogated for half an hour before being allowed entry.
“They were using all the appliances and cooking in our kitchen,” she said. “All the bedrooms that we had locked before leaving were unlocked.”
The bitter fighting in Sudan has so far killed at least 750 people, injured thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands, and many refugees have fled the country.
UN human rights commissioner Volker Turk said RSF had allegedly seized “many buildings in Khartoum to use as operational bases, evict residents and launch attacks from densely populated urban areas.”
He also criticized the Sudanese military for launching “attacks on heavily occupied civilian areas, including airstrikes” that have killed residents.
Paramilitaries have also turned many hospitals and medical facilities into “barracks,” a practice the UN World Health Organization has condemned as a “grave violation.”
Even the diplomatic missions in Khartoum have not been spared.
On May 3, Saudi Arabia said that “an armed group” had broken into its cultural office and “damaged electrical appliances, cameras and confiscated some property.”
The European Union said on April 17 that its ambassador was “robbed” at his residence, calling the attack a “serious violation of the Vienna Convention.”
– ‘All our memories’ –
“Last Wednesday the RSF seized my family home in Khartoum where my cousins and I have our documents, valuables and all our mementos,” a Sudanese woman wrote on Twitter.
“The only remaining neighbor in the neighborhood confirms that it is the RSF. The RSF soldiers are out of control, out of Hemeti’s control,” he added, referring to General Daglo’s nickname.
Another citizen, Tahany, 33, fled her home when fighting intensified in the area near Khartoum airport.
Having given up hope that the fighting would end, he decided to join the tens of thousands of Sudanese who were making the long and arduous journey to Egypt, but first needed to return home to obtain their travel documents.
“The paramilitaries at the checkpoints interrogated us when we tried to return to our neighborhood, and every time we told them that we wanted to pick up some things from our house,” he said.
Finally, Tahany and her mother were allowed to enter the house, escorted by paramilitaries.
“We discovered that all of our household items had been used, from the kitchen to the beds,” she said. “They even mounted a gun on the second floor balcony.”
Terrified, Tahany and her mother frantically searched for their travel documents and ran outside. “Now we are on our way to Egypt,” she said. “We don’t know what has become of our home.”