A Catholic bishop in Sudan is braving aerial bombardments, heavy gunfire and artillery to stay with his people, even as other clergy, diplomats and ordinary citizens flee the deadly fighting in the northeastern African country.
Bishop Yunan Tombe Trille Kuku Andali of El-Obeid said he will stay with his flock in Sudan, until it becomes impossible to be there.
Recently, heavy fighting and displacement of thousands have been reported in El-Obeid, the capital of North Kordofan state, where the bishop is based. According to reports, most of the essential services in the city, including water, electricity and medicines, are cut off.
"I am still keeping indoors with the people. The city is surrounded by forces. The people are without water, electricity and internet connectivity. These days it's raining and we are able to collect some water," Bishop Andali told OSV News.
"We keep praying and waiting for a sign of peace with hope that our leaders may resolve a serious dialogue," he said.
"I prefer to stay with them (Catholics) till it is not possible for us to be there. We hold some services on Sundays and, when necessary, on other occasions," he added.
The larger Kordofan region, which is part of Bishop Andali's diocese, is an important agricultural region, and a key producer of gum arabic, a highly sought resin extracted from acacia trees and used as a stabilizer in the food industry, among other purposes.
Bishop Andali said some Catholic religious sisters have left the diocese, but some remain.
"Two religious priests from different countries are also with us and we keep updating them (on the situation). In case anyone wishes to leave as a community or individual, they are free (to go)," Bishop Andali said.
On April 27, the armed conflict reached the bishop's doorstep, with two rockets striking the Our Lady Queen of Africa Cathedral. In the attack that occurred when the bishop and his priests were praying, one of the rockets struck the cathedral's main gate while destroying part of the priests' house.
On May 19, St. Joseph Parish Church in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state was attacked and looted. Two vehicles used for pastoral missions also were taken.
"Priests from two parishes in Darfur managed to get out of south Sudan, while those in north Darfur were still on the site," said Bishop Andali.
The current challenges facing the people of Sudan result from the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The armed conflict became full-blown combat April 15, after months of tensions between the generals leading the two sides over plans to transition the country into civilian rule.
Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan commands the army, which controls the air force and other heavy weapons, while Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, called Hemedti, leads RSF, a group lacking tactical military discipline. It is, however, an agile force armed with AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns mounted on pick-up trucks.
Most of the fighting has been occurring in the capital, Khartoum, but also has spread to other regions such as Darfur, Hemedti's stronghold.
The war has displaced 1.4 million people and over 470,000 have fled to the neighboring countries, according to June 4 estimates by the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Hundreds of the displaced residents have camped on the outskirts of the city, while others have moved to the relatively peaceful rural areas.
Some of those who can afford the cost of travel have arrived at the border points, waiting to leave the country for South Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia or Chad.
Analysts warn that one of the biggest challenges of the conflict is that Khartoum has become uninhabitable and the state has lost control over the capital. Initially, residents could not leave their houses, but the continued fighting has pushed them out into the lawless streets.
Mohamed Osman, a Sudan researcher with Human Rights Watch, said there was heavy fighting in densely populated areas in Khartoum and other cities.
"People are having to decide whether they stay at home and risk getting bombed or looted or forcibly evicted, or flee, facing the risks created by the fighting on the road and the challenges of crossing borders. Many people are stranded where they are," he said in an interview posted on the organization's website May 17.
Incidents of rape of women and girls, kidnapping and attacks on homes have been rising, according to rights groups, alongside attacks on universities and cultural centers. Fighting forces occupy hospitals, water sources and power stations. The incidents are being blamed on RSF.
On June 10, the United States and Saudi Arabia-brokered 24-hour ceasefire started to allow the passage of humanitarian aid and create opportunities for anyone wanting to leave the country to do so.
The period was described as the quietest it has been since the start of the war, with some agencies delivering aid to those in need and some people managing to flee.
Bishop Andali told OSV News that aid had yet to reach his region, including from the United Nations.
"This is central Sudan and is not easy to reach. I am not aware of their (U.N.) presence. Their stores here are all opened and looted. We hope they appear with the support," he said.