Sudan Fighting Threatens Merowe UNESCO World Heritage Site

"I'm worried about the future of my children." I'm thinking about returning to Abyei so that I could provide an education for my children. But if the war comes to an end I'll return to Khartoum and my house as soon as possible, and my husband will be able to work." Photographer: Fais Abubakr | 10/12/2023 | Alsafat Camp, Wad Madani
17 January 2024

Nagaa / El Musawwarat / El Giteina / Omdurman / El Obeid — Clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been reported near archaeological sites on Merowe Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site in River Nile state. SAF airstrikes reportedly targeted El Giteina, White Nile state. Explosions were heard in the vicinity of the Wadi Sedna military base in Omdurman. The RSF is reportedly imposing hefty levies along the road linking El Obeid, North Kordofan to El Fasher, North Darfur.

Yesterday, SAF warplanes carried out airstrikes southeast of Nagaa and El Musawwarat in River Nile state, targeting RSF units attempting to infiltrate the area.

A statement by the SAF 3rd Infantry Division, seen by Radio Dabanga, said the airstrikes resulted in "losses and injuries among RSF fighters in the area". A video circulating on social media seemed to show two RSF soldiers posing at El Musawwarat archaeological site.

In a statement yesterday, the Regional Network for Cultural Rights "strongly condemned the RSF incursion" on Nagaa and El Musawwarat, on January 14 and previously on December 3, citing "reliable sources, images, and videos posted on social networks showing fighting between the army and the RSF, which likely exposed the sites to vandalism, destruction, looting, and theft".

Nagaa and El Musawwarat house religious sites belonging to the Ancient Kingdom of Kush and are part of Merowe Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Regional Network for Cultural Rights cautioned against turning areas of historical and cultural antiquities into battlefields, reminding both sides of the importance of preserving cultural heritage and historical antiquities "under the provisions of international law and the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property" ratified by Sudan in 1970.

White Nile

The death toll from SAF bombardment of El Giteina on Sunday, rose to seven, while six others, including an RSF militiaman, were injured, a listener in the area told Radio Dabanga.

The caller said that conditions in El Giteina were now "stable", and that market activity and healthcare facilities returned to normal. He pointed out, however, that "many of those who fled after the airstrikes have not come back yet". He added that there are reports "that an aid convoy was on its way to El Giteina".


Residents of Omdurman, Sudan's second city, say that a cautious calm was reinstated on Tuesday morning, following a "large explosion" heard in the Wadi Sedna military base area.

Exchanges of fire between the SAF and RSF in Omdurman were said to have stopped, while combing operations by the SAF in central Omdurman's old town continued.

The calm comes on the heels of a recording published on Monday showing deputy SAF commander, Lt Gen Yasir El Atta, vowing to defeat the RSF and warning that "there will be greater fighting in the coming days".

El Obeid

In El Obeid, capital of North Kordofan, the RSF set up multiple checkpoints along the road linking it to El Fasher, capital of North Darfur.

Locals said that there are multiple inspection procedures and dozens of checkpoints, creating long waiting lines and difficult conditions for travellers.

A woman who recently travelled from El Fasher to El Obeid told Radio Dabanga that her trip, that usually takes a few hours, took four days. "It now takes the bus about 10 minutes to cross a checkpoint, and then another gate appears."

She added that children, the elderly, and the sick, were especially suffering from these measures due to frequentstops, cold weather, and lack of access to food and water.

Bus drivers pay more than SDG2.5 million to get past all the checkpoints. "At a new gate installed right before El Obeid, each passenger must pay SDG5,000 to pass", she said.

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