( -5, reports of fighting in paragraphs 12, 15)
KHARTOUM - Sudanese paramilitary fighters have taken over the national museum in Khartoum, its deputy director said on Saturday, urging them to protect precious artefacts from the nation's heritage that include ancient mummies.
Members of the Rapid Support Forces group that has been fighting the army since mid-April for control of Sudan entered the museum on Friday, said deputy director Ikhlas Abdellatif.
Museum staff do not know the situation inside the museum because they halted work there after the conflict suddenly erupted on April 15, forcing police guarding the facility to quit, Abdellatif said.
The RSF released a video filmed inside the museum grounds showing a soldier denying that they had done any harm to the museum or would do so, and inviting any individuals or organisations to visit the museum to check.
The video also showed RSF fighters covering up exposed mummies with sheets and closing the plain white boxes in which they were contained. It was not clear when or why the mummies had been uncovered.
The museum is in a large building on the banks of the River Nile in central Khartoum, near the central bank in an area where some of the fiercest fighting has taken place.
Among its thousands of priceless relics are embalmed mummies dating to 2,500 BC, making them among the oldest and archaeologically most important in the world.
The museum also contains statues, pottery and ancient murals, with artefacts from the stone age through to the Christian and Islamic eras, said former director Hatim Alnour.
Roxanne Trioux, part of a French archaeological team that was working in Sudan, said they had been monitoring satellite pictures of the museum and had already seen potential signs of damage there before Friday, with signs of burning.
"We don't know the extent of damage inside," she said.
Fighting has persisted despite repeated truces including one negotiated by Saudi Arabia and the United States to which both sides signed up. The latest was due to expire on Saturday evening.
On Saturday afternoon, residents reported clashes including air and artillery strikes in southern Khartoum and northern districts of its sister cities Omdurman and Bahri which lie across the Nile, as well as the Sharg el-Nil district, to the east.
After continued clashes, bombardment and occupation of civilian buildings, Washington and Riyadh suspended the talks and the U.S. said this week it was imposing sanctions on the two sides' business interests.
Since the overthrow of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019 Sudan's government was headed by a sovereign council under army chief General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan with the RSF head Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, as his deputy.
The two are now heading rival forces in a bloody power struggle, and Burhan removed Hemedti from his post last month.
On Friday, the U.N. Security Council called on the warring factions to cease hostilities to allow access to humanitarian organisations.
"The army is shelling us and the RSF are spread out in the streets, and the citizen is paying the price for war," said Sami el-Tayeb, a 47-year-old resident of Omdurman.
The war has already displaced 1.2 million people inside the country and forced another 400,000 to flee into neighbouring states, pushing Sudan to the brink of disaster and raising fears of a wider conflict.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Dubai and Adam Makary in Cairo; Writing by Angus McDowall Editing by Giles Elgood and Frances Kerry)