Foreign states rush high-risk Sudan evacuation, some foreign citizens hurt

April 24, 2023 - 2:35 PM
Smoke is seen rise from buildings during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan. April 22, 2023. (Reuters/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo)
  • U.S. evacuates staff in operation from Djibouti
  • UK says armed forces got its embassy staff out
  • Fierce battles have continued during Eid holiday
  • Many trapped residents trying to flee Khartoum

 The armed forces of the United States and the United Kingdom have evacuated embassy staff from Sudan, while other nations rushed to get their citizens to safety as rival military factions battled in the capital Khartoum on Sunday.

The eruption of fighting eight days ago between the army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group has triggered a humanitarian crisis, killed 420 people and trapped millions of Sudanese without access to basic services.

As people attempted to flee the chaos, countries began landing planes and organizing convoys in Khartoum to pull out their nationals. Some foreign citizens were injured. Gunfire rang out across the city and dark smoke hung overhead, a Reuters reporter said.

The warring sides accused each other of attacking a French convoy, 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.

France said a French plane carrying around a hundred people including the European Union delegation in Khartoum along with other nationalities had left for Djibouti, and a second plane with a similar number aboard was due to take of shortly.

The risks were also evident in army accusations that the RSF looted a Qatari convoy heading to Port Sudan. In separate incidents, an Iraqi citizen was killed during clashes and Egypt said one of its diplomats had been wounded.

The efforts to extract foreign residents frustrated some Sudanese who felt the rival factions showed less concern for the safety of locals.

“Seeing the foreigners leave made me upset because I see there’s some groups that were helped by the army and RSF, meanwhile we keep getting hit,” said Alsadig Alfatih, who on Sunday managed to leave his home for the first time since the fighting erupted and said he would head to Egypt.

Pope appeals

Germany said it had landed a military plane in Khartoum but that the operation would take some time, while Italy said it was bringing out some nationals later on Sunday. Ghana, India and Libya also said they were working to bring home their people.

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.

U.S. officials said special forces using aircraft including MH-47 Chinook helicopters swept into Sudan’s battle-stricken capital on Saturday from a U.S. 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 U.S. military might use drone or satellite imagery to detect threats to Americans travelling on overland routes out of Sudan, or position naval assets at Port Sudan to aid Americans arriving there.

Ceasefire breached

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 from 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 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, but was not able to independently verify the date the video was filmed.

Burhan said on Monday he was based at the army headquarters in central Khartoum, about 2 km (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 its forces were targeted by air strikes in Bahri’s Kafouri district and that dozens were killed and injured.

RSF forces were heavily deployed on the streets and on bridges across the capital, with army troops visible in parts of Omdurman, a Reuters reporter said. Neighborhoods 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 Organization 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.

The WHO retweeted a post from Sudan’s Health Ministry on Sunday saying at least 420 people had been killed and 3,700 injured in the fighting so far.

—Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum, Nafisa Eltahir, Ahmed Elimam and Hatem Maher in Cairo, Daphne Psaledakis, Juliette Jabkhiro in Paris, Milan Pavicic in Gdansk, Francesca Landini in Rome and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Aidan Lewis and Angus McDowall; Editing by Alex Richardson and David Holmes