Governments around the world step up evacuations from Sudan as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warns of a “catastrophic conflagration” that could engulf the whole region
Foreign governments are stepping up the pace of evacuations of diplomats, staff and citizens from Sudan as fears grow that rival generals factions will escalate their battle for power.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of a “catastrophic conflagration” that could engulf the whole region.
In dramatic evacuation operations, convoys of foreign diplomats, civilian teachers, students, workers and families from dozens of countries wound past combatants at tense front lines in the capital of Khartoum to reach extraction points. Others drove hundreds of miles to the country's east coast.
A stream of European, Mideast, African and Asian military aircraft flew in all day Sunday and Monday to ferry them out.
The United States has also started facilitating the departure of its private citizens who want to leave, according to White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
Sullivan said the US has placed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets over the land evacuation route to help facilitate safe travel by land from Khartoum to the Port of Sudan, but does not have any US troops on the ground.
France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Turkey and Japan are among the many other countries that have started helping their citizens leave.
British government under pressure
The UK has at least 2,000 of its citizens still in Sudan and has come in for criticism at home for not yet announcing any kind of plan to get them out.
Some 1,200 British soldiers who were part of a military operation out of a key British air base on the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus helped evacuate around 30 UK diplomatic staff and their families but many other British citizens are becoming more desperate to escape the violence.
Britain’s Africa Minister, Andrew Mitchell, said “intense planning” was underway for a “series of possible evacuations” and reiterated UK foreign office advice for UK citizens in Sudan to stay indoors and await further instructions.
Two French flights took off Sunday from Khartoum to Djibouti, carrying some 200 people from various countries, and more were planned for Monday.
An Italian air force C-130 that left Khartoum with evacuees landed Sunday night at an air base in Djibouti, the country's Defence Ministry said. Another plane, carrying Italy's ambassador and military personnel involved in the evacuation, was expected in Djibouti later that night.
Spain has evacuated some thirty nationals and 70 others from European or Latin American countries to Djibouti following an operation coordinated by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Union.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters in Luxemburg on Monday that more than one thousand European citizens have been evacuated from Sudan, and that 21 people have already arrived in Europe.
"It has been a long weekend, a long and intense weekend trying to take our people out of Sudan. It has been a complex operation and it has been a successful operation, first the staff of the European Union, 21 people are already in Europe and many more European Union citizens are already out of Sudan, I can't give you the concrete figure, it's more than 1,000 people for sure," he said.
“We have to continue pushing for a political settlement. We cannot afford that Sudan, which is a very populated country, implodes because it will be sending shockwaves around the whole [of] Africa”, he added.
Officials in Jordan said four planes landed at Amman military airport carrying 343 Jordanian evacuees from Port Sudan.
Sudan fears the worst
But for many Sudanese, the airlifts are a terrifying sign that international powers, after failing repeatedly to broker ceasefires, only expect a worsening of the fighting that has already pushed the population into disaster. The latest nominal cease-fire, which brought almost no reduction in fighting, was due to run out Monday evening.
Meanwhile, Sudanese nationals are desperately trying to flee the violence. Many risked dangerous roads to cross the northern border into Egypt.
Over 420 people, including 264 civilians, have been killed and over 3,700 wounded in fighting between the Sudanese armed forces and the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF.
“My family (my mother, my siblings and my nephews) are on the road from Sudan to Cairo through Aswan,” prominent Sudanese filmmaker Amjad Abual-Ala wrote on Facebook.
The power struggle between the Sudanese military, led by General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the RSF, led by General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, has dealt a harsh blow to Sudan's hopes for a democratic transition. The rival generals came to power after a pro-democracy uprising led to the ouster of the former strongman, al-Bashir.
In 2021, the generals joined forces to seize power in a coup.
The current violence came after Burhan and Dagalo fell out over a recent internationally brokered deal with democracy activists meant to incorporate the RSF into the military and eventually lead to civilian rule.
Both generals, each craving international legitimacy, have accused the other of obstructing the evacuations. The Sudanese military alleged the RSF opened fire on a French convoy, wounding a French national. The RSF countered the attack by warplanes as French citizens and diplomats left the embassy for Omdurman, saying the military’s strikes “endangered the lives of French nationals.”
Hospitals have struggled as the violence rages on. Many wounded are stranded by the fighting, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate which monitors casualties. It has suggested the death toll is probably higher than anticipated.
Thousands of Sudanese have fled fighting in Khartoum and elsewhere, UN agencies said, but millions are sheltering in their homes amid explosions, gunfire and looting without adequate electricity, food or water.
In the western region of Darfur, up to 20,000 people left for neighbouring Chad. War is not new to Darfur, where ethnically motivated violence has killed up to 300,000 people since 2003. But Sudan is not used to such heavy fighting in its capital, which "has become a ghost city,” said Atiya Abdalla Atiya from the Doctors’ Syndicate.