Foreign states rush to evacuate from Sudan, US and UK pull out diplomats
The United States and the United Kingdom said their armed forces helped staff from both embassies get out of Sudan, but evacuations by some other countries faced problems on Sunday as rival military factions battled in the capital Khartoum.
The eruption of fighting eight days ago between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group has triggered a humanitarian crisis, killed 400 people, and trapped many thousands of civilians in their homes.
As people attempted to flee the chaos and foreign countries tried to pull out their nationals, gunfire rang out across the capital and dark smoke hung overhead, a Reuters reporter said.
The warring sides accused each other of attacking a convoy of French nationals, both saying one French person was wounded. France’s Foreign Ministry, which had earlier said it was evacuating diplomatic staff and citizens, did not comment.
The army also accused the RSF of attacking and looting a Qatari convoy heading to Port Sudan. Doha released no immediate statement on any incident.
Egypt said a member of its mission in Sudan had been wounded by a gunshot, without giving details.
President Joe Biden said the US was temporarily suspending operations at its embassy in Khartoum but remained committed to the Sudanese people, reiterating calls for a ceasefire.
“The belligerent parties must implement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and respect the will of the people of Sudan,” Biden said in a statement.
Pope Francis appealed for an end to the violence during his Sunday midday prayer in Rome.
The fighting broke out in Khartoum, along with its adjoining sister cities of Omdurman and Bahri, and other parts of the country on April 15, four years after long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled during a popular uprising.
The army and RSF jointly staged a coup in 2021 but fell out during negotiations over a plan to form a civilian government and integrate the RSF into the armed forces.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the country’s armed forces have evacuated diplomatic staff and their family members.
US officials said special forces using aircraft including MH-47 Chinook helicopters swept into Sudan’s battle-stricken capital on Saturday from a US base in Djibouti, spending just one hour on the ground to bring out fewer than 100 people.
“We did not take any small-arms fire on the way in and were able to get in and out without issue,” said Lieutenant General Douglas Sims, the director of operations at the military’s Joint Staff.
Chris Maier, an assistant secretary of defense, said the US military might use drone or satellite imagery to detect threats to Americans traveling on overland routes out of Sudan, or position naval assets at Port Sudan to aid Americans arriving there.
Saudi Arabia promises safe evacuation
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has promised the safe evacuation of citizens of various nationalities, including Pakistan, and ensured that it was providing all the necessary assistance for their departure to their respective countries.
In a statement issued today, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry announced the “safe arrival” of several foreign nationals in Sudan to the Kingdom.
“The number of citizens who were evacuated reached 91, while the number of people who were evacuated from brotherly and friendly countries reached 66,” it said, adding that these citizens were from brotherly and friendly countries, including Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, India, Bulgaria, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Canada, and Burkina Faso.
“The Kingdom worked to provide all the necessary needs of foreign nationals in preparation for their departure to their countries,” it added.
Sudan’s sudden collapse into warfare has dashed plans to restore civilian rule, brought an already impoverished country to the brink of humanitarian disaster, and threatened a wider conflict that could draw in outside powers.
Beyond Khartoum, reports of the worst violence have come from Darfur, a western region bordering Chad that suffered a conflict that escalated in 2003 leaving 300,000 people dead and 2.7 million displaced.
The army under Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF, headed by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, have failed to observe ceasefires agreed upon almost daily, including a three-day truce for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which began on Friday.
For the first time since the start of the fighting, a video was posted that briefly showed Hemedti in battle dress in the passenger seat of a pick-up truck, surrounded by cheering troops, near Khartoum’s presidential palace.
Reuters was able to confirm the location by buildings and road layout seen in the video which matched satellite imagery of the area but was not able to independently verify the date the video was filmed.
Burhan said on Monday that he was based at the army headquarters in central Khartoum, about 2km (1.2 miles) from the palace.
Battles have continued around the army’s HQ and the airport, which has been closed by the clashes, and over the past two days in Bahri, where the army has used troops on the ground as well as air strikes to try to push back the RSF.
The RSF said on Sunday that its forces were targeted by air strikes in Bahri’s Kafouri district and that dozens were “killed and injured”.
RSF forces were heavily deployed in the streets and on the bridges across the capital, with army troops visible in parts of Omdurman, a Reuters reporter said. Neighbourhoods were otherwise largely empty of civilians and ordinary life.
In Bahri, a video verified by Reuters showed a major market burning. Residents reported looting in the district, which is home to industrial zones containing important flour mills.
World Health Organisation head Tedros Ghebreyesus described multiple deadly attacks on health facilities.
“Paramedics, frontline nurses, and doctors are often unable to access the wounded and the injured cannot reach facilities,” he tweeted.