HomeAfricaA Race Against Time: Foreigners Flee Sudan as Deadly Fighting Rages On

A Race Against Time: Foreigners Flee Sudan as Deadly Fighting Rages On

On Sunday, US and British forces conducted an evacuation of embassy staff and their families from Sudan, a country that has been engulfed in deadly fighting between forces loyal to two rival generals. Gunfire echoed through Khartoum as millions of residents hunkered down inside their homes, many running low on water and food. Army and militia troops have been engaged in street battles since April 15, leaving behind charred tanks, gutted buildings, and looted shops.

According to UN figures, more than 420 people have been killed and thousands wounded, sparking fears of wider turmoil and a humanitarian disaster in one of the world’s poorest nations.

US special forces launched a rescue mission early Sunday for around 100 embassy staff and their relatives, flying them to a military base in Djibouti with Chinook helicopters. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak later announced that UK forces had also completed a complex and rapid evacuation of British diplomats and their families from Sudan amid a significant escalation in violence and threats to embassy staff.

US President Joe Biden condemned the violence, stating that it is “unconscionable and it must stop.” Long convoys of United Nations vehicles and buses were seen leaving Khartoum heading east to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, 850 kilometres (530 miles) by road. France and Germany also began evacuation operations to assist European citizens and other nationals.

The fighting broke out on April 15 between forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Daglo’s RSF emerged from the Janjaweed fighters whom former strongman leader Omar al-Bashir unleashed in the Darfur region, where they were accused of war crimes including genocide.

The two generals seized power in a 2021 coup, but later fell out in a bitter power struggle, most recently centred on the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army. Multiple truces have been agreed in recent days and ignored.

Khartoum’s airport, where the blackened hulls of destroyed aircraft lie on runways, is under the control of the RSF. At least one jailbreak has taken place in the capital, according to lawyers. Reports of prisoners also being freed from two other prisons, including the Kober jail where Bashir has been held since his ouster, could not be independently verified.

In Khartoum, the conflict has left terrified civilians sheltering inside their homes, with power largely off amid sweltering heat and the internet out for most. Pope Francis on Sunday renewed calls “for the violence to stop as quickly as possible and for dialogue to resume.” Fighting has broken out elsewhere across Sudan, with battles raging in Darfur, where aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said their medics had been “overwhelmed” by the number of patients with gunshot wounds, many of them children, in the city of El Fasher.

Some hospitals have been shelled in fighting and others ransacked, with more than two-thirds of hospitals in Khartoum and neighbouring states “out of service,” the doctors’ union said. The first large evacuation of foreigners occurred over the weekend when more than 150 people reached Saudi Arabia after naval forces launched a rescue across the Red Sea on Saturday, collecting Saudi citizens and nationals from 12 other countries from Port Sudan.

Turkey began rescue operations at dawn Sunday via road from the southern city of Wad Medani, but the effort was postponed from one site in Khartoum after explosions near a mosque designated as the assembly area, the embassy said on Twitter. Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said Rome was planning to evacuate “about 200 people,” including Italians.

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