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Where is Omar al-Bashir? The mystery of the former dictator exacerbates the crisis in Sudan.

As Sudan descended into chaos amid fighting between rival generals, one question was being debated across the country on Wednesday: Where is former dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir?

Mr Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In Sudan, he still faces charges related to the 1989 coup that brought him to power and faces the death penalty or life in prison if convicted. His disappearance is another sign of lawlessness in Sudan and could deal a blow to hopes of democratic rule in the country.

Mr Bashir, 79, is thought to be being held at Kerber Prison in the capital Khartoum, serving a two-year sentence on money-laundering and corruption charges. But then a former official who was being held with Mr Bashir said on Tuesday night that he had left the prison along with a number of other unnamed officials, without mentioning the former dictator.

Earlier, the Sudanese army issued a statement saying that the prisoners had been released after the prison’s food, water and electricity supplies were cut off.

Then on Wednesday, the military said Mr Bashir, who was ousted in 2019 after 30 years in power, was being held at a military hospital and remained at the facility, adding to the confusion. For health reasons, since before the conflict started about two weeks ago.

Mr Bashir and four other officials “remain in the hospital under the guard and responsibility of the bailiffs”, the military said in a statement. But it provided no evidence or photographs of Mr Bashir.

In an audio clip circulated on social media and broadcast on television channels in the Arab world, Ahmed Mohammad Harun, the official who was being held with Bashir, said he and other former government officials left for safety reasons Prison reasons and will be responsible for their own protection. He did not mention Mr Bashir.

Mr Harun, a former cabinet minister and senior official in Bashir’s government, is also wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sudan’s western Darfur region in 2003-2004. Harlan said he would turn himself in to authorities and appear before the judiciary once government agencies resumed operations.

The latest developments underscore the seriousness of the political turmoil engulfing Sudan and how infighting among generals poses a serious threat to the process of restoring democratic civilian rule. At least 459 people and more than 4,000 others have been wounded in the fighting, which is now in its 12th day, according to the World Health Organization.

With limited access to basic services, thousands have also fled the country, traveling by road to neighboring countries including Egypt, Chad and South Sudan. Foreign governments have been evacuating their nationals and diplomatic personnel.

Fighting in Sudan has spread across the country, pitting the army led by General Abdul Fattah Burhan against a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces led by Lieutenant General Mohammad Hamdan. Both leaders have long been loyal to Mr Bashir and have been linked to a wave of genocidal violence in Darfur that killed some 300,000 people and displaced another 2.5 million from 2003 to 2008.

The two generals helped topple Mr Bashir in 2019 after a popular uprising swept the country. But they have also joined forces to undermine the transition to democratic rule and staged a coup in late 2021 that disrupted the power-sharing agreement between the civilian authorities and the military.

Their cooperation continued until this month, when the two generals and the troops they command clashed in the streets. As they battled for supremacy, both generals presented themselves as guarantors of peace and democracy and urged civilians to side with them.

Earlier Wednesday, both the military and paramilitary forces cited Harun’s audio and accused the other of helping Harun escape from prison. In a statement, rapid support force says His release was part of a process “aimed at restoring the deposed regime”.

In turn, the Sudanese army accused paramilitary groups of attacking several prisons in the cities of Khartoum and Omdurman and forcing guards to release prisoners. The military has also distanced itself from Harlan, who in his audio message appealed to the public to support the military.

“We were very surprised by his mention of the armed forces, as it has nothing to do with Ahmad Harun, his party or the management of the country’s prisons, which are run by Sudan’s interior ministry and police,” the military’s statement said. explain.

The latest development follows a US-brokered 72-hour ceasefire that began on Tuesday “in some areas”, according to Volker Perthes, the UN envoy to Sudan.

While some residents of the capital reported that the fighting had subsided on Wednesday morning, others remained in the clashes and reported hearing heavy gunfire and shelling.

Speaking to the UN Security Council via video from Sudan late on Tuesday, Mr Pertes said there were “no clear signs” that either side was ready to negotiate, and he warned of a growing threat of crime as thousands fled the country. and attempted sexual assaults will increase.

“As the fighting continues, there will be a further breakdown of law and order,” he said. “Sudan is likely to become increasingly fragmented, which will have devastating effects on the region.”

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