Emergency evacuation in Sudan; US and UK withdraw diplomats
Reuters: The United States and Britain said their armed forces helped officials from both embassies to leave Sudan, but evacuations from some other countries ran into problems on Sunday as rival military factions battled it out in the capital Khartoum.
The eruption of clashes eight days ago between the army and the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) triggered a humanitarian crisis, killing 400 people and trapping many thousands of civilians in their homes.
As people tried to flee the chaos and foreign countries tried to evacuate their nationals, gunshots echoed across the capital and dark smoke billowed overhead, a Reuters reporter said.
The warring sides accused each other of attacking a convoy of French citizens, both saying that a Frenchman was wounded. France’s foreign ministry, which had previously said it was evacuating diplomatic staff and citizens, declined to comment.
The army also accused the RSF of attacking and looting a Qatari convoy heading to Port Sudan. Doha did not immediately issue a statement about any incidents.
Egypt said a member of its mission in Sudan was wounded by gunfire, without giving details.
President Joe Biden said the US is temporarily suspending operations at its embassy in Khartoum but remains committed to the Sudanese people, reiterating calls for a ceasefire.
“The warring parties must implement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, allow unimpeded humanitarian access and respect the will of the people of Sudan,” Biden said in a statement.
Pope Francis called for an end to the violence during Sunday’s midday prayer in Rome.
Fighting broke out in Khartoum, along with its adjacent sister cities of Omdurman and Bahri, and other parts of the country on April 15, four years after autocrat Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in a popular uprising.
The army and RSF jointly staged a coup in 2021, but fell out during talks over a plan to form a civilian government and integrate the RSF into the military.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the country’s armed forces had evacuated diplomatic staff and their families.
US officials said special forces using aircraft, including MH-47 Chinook helicopters, invaded Sudan’s capital on Saturday from a US base in Djibouti, spending just an hour on the ground to bring in less than 100 people.
“We didn’t receive any small arms fire en route and we were able to get in and out without any problems,” said Lieutenant General Douglas Sims, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Chris Maier, assistant secretary of defense, said the US military could use drone or satellite imagery to detect threats to Americans traveling on land routes out of Sudan, or deploy naval assets in Port Sudan to assist Americans arriving there.
Sudan’s sudden collapse in the war has thwarted plans to restore civilian rule, brought an already impoverished country to the brink of humanitarian disaster and threatened a broader conflict that could draw in foreign powers.
In addition to Khartoum, reports of the worst violence came from Darfur, a western region on the border with Chad, which suffered a conflict that intensified from 2003, leaving 300,000 dead and 2.7 million displaced.
The army commanded by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF, led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, failed to observe ceasefires agreed to almost daily, including a three-day truce for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which started on Friday.
For the first time since the fighting began, a video has been posted that briefly shows Hemedti in battle fatigues in the passenger seat of a pickup 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 that matched satellite imagery of the area, but was unable to independently verify the date the video was filmed.
Burhan said on Monday he was based at the army’s headquarters in central Khartoum, about 2km from the palace.
Battles continued around the army headquarters and the airport, which was closed by the clashes, and in the last two days in Bahri, where the army used ground troops and air strikes to try to repel the RSF.
The RSF said on Sunday that its forces had been targeted by airstrikes in Kafouri district of Bahri and that dozens had been “killed and wounded”.
RSF forces were heavily deployed in the capital’s streets and bridges, with army troops visible in parts of Omdurman, a Reuters reporter said. The neighborhoods, otherwise, were virtually empty of civilians and ordinary life.
In Bahri, a video verified by Reuters showed a large market burn. Residents reported looting in the district, which is home to industrial zones with important flour mills.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus, described several deadly attacks on health facilities. “Frontline paramedics, nurses and doctors are often unable to access the injured and the injured are unable to reach facilities,” he tweeted.