Child soldiers reported in Sudan battles

Satellite image taken on August 21 annotated with location of Al Shajara Armoured Corps in Khartoum (Photo: Sudan War Monitor)

Fighting in El Shajara area of western Khartoum continued for the second day yesterday, following an attack on El Shajara Armoured Corps by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The Darfur Bar Association reported instances of child soldiers fighting for both parties of the conflict in El Shajara. 

Yesterday morning, the RSF launched a renewed attack on El Shajara Armoured Corps in western Khartoum for the second consecutive day. Warplanes flew over the area in the afternoon, followed by violent explosions. 

El Shajara is the name of an area along the White Nile in southwest Khartoum, where a residential neighbourhood has been built. The army base is named after this area. 

Listeners in Khartoum reported to Radio Dabanga that a variety of weapons were used in the attack, causing smoke to billow from areas adjacent to the Armoured Corps.

“During the operation, the RSF seized a large amount of military equipment, weapons, and ammunition caches, 34 armoured vehicles and tanks, 12 cannons, and 78 other vehicles, while taking down 260 enemy soldiers and capturing hundreds more. An exact count of the SAF’s casualties and equipment losses is still underway,” according to an RSF statement yesterday.

Satellite image shows the approximate situation of Al Shajara Armoured Corps in Khartoum on August 21 (Photo: Sudan War Monitor)

Members of the RSF claimed in a video clip that they had penetrated the headquarters of the Armoured Corps. However, sources close to the army clarified that the photos were taken at a weapons depot near El Rai El Masri, which houses tanks. 

The Sudan War Monitor analysed social media videos of SAF troops “retreating from the perimeter wall toward buildings on the inside of the base, as they came under fire from snipers.” The fleeing soldiers likely were stationed at trenches outside the eastern wall which the RSF reportedly captured. 

Images of army officers who fell on the first day of skirmishes in El Shajara were posted on social media, while the army reported the deaths of hundreds of RSF soldiers. 

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) allegedly repelled multiple attack attempts launched by the RSF against the Armoured Corps and the ammunition complex in the El Shajara military area on Sunday.

SAF spokesperson Brig Nabil Abdallah stated on Sunday evening that the army inflicted significant losses on the RSF, “including hundreds killed and wounded and several tanks and armoured vehicles captured and destroyed, along with other military assets.” 

He accused the RSF of launching mortar shells at El Salama, killing at least six people and injuring many others. He also blamed the death of two people and injury of eight others on a targeted attack by the RSF on Karari El Balad area in Omdurman. 

The Sudanese Journalists Network announced the death of sports photojournalist Esam El Haj, who succumbed to wounds sustained during clashes in El Shajara and Jabra in Khartoum on Sunday. El Shajara Resistance Committees also confirmed the death of two members in the same clashes. 

Child soldiers 

The Darfur Bar Association (DBA) expressed grave concerns about the presence of children among army fighters in battles, some of whom were seen wearing RSF uniforms during military operations in El Shajara area. The Sudan War Monitor published a video in which a group of boys are shown operating a combat vehicle in the area. 

According to a source of prominent Sudan researcher and analyst Eric Reeves, “an ugly reality has started to emerge. Among the dead, there were many children killed fighting with the RSF,” most of whom are reportedly from neighbourhoods in Khartoum mainly inhabited by populations from marginalised regions of Sudan, including Darfur and Blue Nile region. 

The RSF used “money” and “false promises” to recruit the children, some of whom are as young as 14, according to the source. 

In a statement released yesterday, the DBA underscored that “international humanitarian law and various international treaties and norms prohibit the recruitment of children under the age of fifteen” into combat. It is considered a war crime in both international and non-international conflicts, as outlined in the International Criminal Court statute. The International Labour Organisation Convention and The Convention on the Rights of the Child also forbid children’s participation in military conflicts. 

Lawyer Nafisa Hajar, who witnessed children present at SAF and RSF posts, deemed it a blatant violation of conventions and an infringement on children’s rights. She believes “involving children in conflict zones is unacceptable, and will lead to psychological issues.” She urged the international community and the Security Council to address child recruitment as a war crime. 

Residents flee 

Residents of El Shajara reported extensive damage to several houses due to the ongoing fierce battles between the army and the RSF, which forced many to flee their homes. 

Residents said that the sound of heavy artillery could be heard from early Monday morning to afternoon, directed at old Omdurman, neighbourhoods in Khartoum, and Khartoum North (Bahri), all of which witnessed intense clashes. 

A lawyer recounted her experience fleeing El Shajara to Radio Dabanga, stating that she had to evacuate her house on Sunday morning. and relocate to Wad Madani, capital of El Gezira state.  

She described a gruelling “16-hour journey from El Shajara to Wad Madani, during which I had to trek 20 kilometres to El Kalakla, carrying my belongings with my children.” En route, she endured humiliating searches at numerous RSF checkpoints. “90 per cent of the families in El Shajara and El Lamab neighbourhoods have been displaced,” she said. 

Residents of El Shajara who spoke to Radio Dabanga on Sunday described the battles in the area as “the fiercest ones yet”, adding that large explosions were heard in the vicinity of Jabra as the RSF attacked army positions in the neighbourhood and surrounding areas.