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Cash Access Sudan War Casualty

FILE - In this July 24, 2011 photo, Sudan's new currency sits behind a window at the central bank in Khartoum.

KHARTOUM - On a scorching sidewalk, Ibrahim Said is one of dozens of depositors who have queued at a branch of the Bank of Khartoum in Madani, a city about 160 kilometers southeast of the capital, to recover their savings.

One of half a million people who fled Khartoum for safer cities, Said escaped with what little cash he happened to have in the house when the capital was rocked on April 15 by air strikes and shelling that have not stopped since.

Now, he is locked out of his savings as the fighting between the army under General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy-turned-foe Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) shows no signs of abating.

"I have been here since seven in the morning hoping to withdraw money from my account," he told AFP.

Ishraq al-Rih has been coming to the same bank branch for three days, and on each occasion it has been the same.

"At around 3:00 pm, they open the doors, let in a very small number of people, and if you're not one of the lucky ones you have to come back the next day," she said.

Every passing day brings more anxiety, as families ration their cash to make ends meet, terrified of what footage shared online of looted banks and empty safes means for their savings.

"We don't know what to do. We have money in the bank but we can't touch it," Ahmed Abdelaziz told AFP, standing outside the closed gate of Omdurman National Bank.

The 45-year-old civil servant thought he was safe in Madani, where tens of thousands of people have settled but cannot escape the impact of the battles that rage in the capital.

"The servers that control every bank's operations are all in Khartoum, and employees can't get to them because of the fighting," said Mohamed Abdelaziz, who works in the banking sector.

Even in states untouched by the violence, "branches have lost contact with the headquarters that used to validate operations," leaving managers unable to replenish reserves and allow withdrawals, he said.

In a move questioned by observers considering the entire sector is at a standstill, army chief al-Burhan declared a freeze on RSF assets this week and dismissed the central bank governor.

"Bank-to-bank payments have been completely cut; we can't transfer any money between accounts," said an employee of Sudanese French Bank who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The country's banking federation has repeatedly moved to assure clients that their assets and financial records are intact and has vowed to "restore banking services as soon as conditions permit".

For the time being, depositors like Said, Rih and Abdelaziz are being forced to use whatever means they have to get staples such as flour, which has doubled in price, or petrol -- now 20 times what it cost before the conflict.