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Fighting in Sudan tears families apart, with members fighting on each side


A humanitarian crisis is growing in real time in the capital of Sudan.


DETROW: For nearly a week, two rival military groups have been fighting to control the country in the streets of Khartoum. It's killed hundreds of civilians, trapped many more in a war zone and closed well over half of the city's hospitals.


Among the many soldiers are two brothers who are not on the same side. One brother, Mosab Jally, is fighting with the Sudanese army. The other, Yacob Jally is fighting with the Rapid Support Forces, or the RSF.

MOHAMED JALLY: (Through interpreter) I'm the only one losing in this war. No one else is losing.

DETROW: This is their oldest brother, Mohamed Jally. He spoke to us from their home in the region of Darfur, which is over 600 miles away from Khartoum. On Monday night, the family welcomed Yacob's firstborn, a baby boy. But with the fighting ongoing, they had no way to contact Yacob to tell him the good news. The two brothers in Khartoum weren't on speaking terms.

JALLY: (Through interpreter) So I started a group call with both of them, and we all talked. Then they started joking and laughing at me. I was so annoyed. We are worried sick, and they are laughing. They said, don't you know what we do? We fight. We either kill or get killed.

CHANG: Mohamed says his family's story is echoed across Sudan.

JALLY: (Through interpreter) In one family, you will find five fighting here, and, like, 10 fighting with the other side. I don't know. It's almost as if the war is inside our homes.

CHANG: At the center of all this fighting, all these families torn apart and the hundreds of deaths are Sudan's two most powerful generals, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the Sudanese army and essentially the country's de facto leader, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo better known as Hemedti. He is the head of the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces, or the RSF. They've become like a second army in Sudan.

DETROW: The two generals used to be allies, and together they helped oust the former autocratic president, Omar al-Bashir. And now both sides are vying for power. Mohamed says he is told his brother so many times, you're doing the dirty work for these men. This fight is not what you think it's about.

JALLY: (Through interpreter) He said we have own convictions and principles that we are fighting for. But I know we are fighting for the generals, not for the country.

DETROW: Mohamed also says that to understand why so many Sudanese people choose to join the army or the paramilitary, you have to understand what's been going on in Sudan for decades.

JALLY: (Through interpreter) Unemployment is so high in places like Darfur, that are on the margins of the Sudanese society, many cannot afford an education. And so sometimes the only thing they can do is enlist. They have no other options.

CHANG: So far, calls for a cease-fire have not worked. Speaking to Al-Jazeera today, General Hemedti said he refuses to sit down and negotiate with his chief rival, General al-Burhan. But for Mohamed, the safety of both his brothers is at stake here.

JALLY: (Through interpreter) I'm stuck in the middle. I love them both, and I want them to come back to me. And after that, whatever happens, happens.

DETROW: That was Mohamed Jally speaking to NPR from his hometown Zalingei, the capital of central Darfur in Sudan.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENDRICK LAMAR SONG, "UNTITLED 05 09.21.2014") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.