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US embassy evacuated as Sudan fighting enters 2nd week

Author: AFP | Published: Sunday, April 23, 2023

Smoke billows above residential buildings in Khartoum on April 16, 2023. | AFP

The US military has evacuated American embassy staff from Khartoum, President Joe Biden said Sunday, as fighting between the Sudanese army and a paramilitary group entered a second week following a brief lull.

The fighting in Sudan has left hundreds dead and thousands wounded, while survivors cope with shortages of electricity and food.

“Today, on my orders, the United States military conducted an operation to extract US¬†Government personnel from Khartoum,” Biden said in a statement released late Saturday night, Washington time.

He expressed gratitude for the “unmatched skill of our service members who successfully brought them to safety”, adding that Djibouti, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia had helped in the operation.

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the heavily armed paramilitary group currently challenging the authority of the regular army in the capital and elsewhere, tweeted hours earlier that it had “coordinated with the U.S Forces Mission consisting of 6 aircraft, for evacuating diplomats and their families on Sunday morning”.

Foreign countries have said they are preparing for the potential evacuation of thousands more of their nationals, even though Sudan’s main airport remains closed.

More than 150 people from various nations had already reached the safety of Saudi Arabia a day earlier, in the first announced evacuation of civilians.

As the kingdom’s naval forces transported the civilians, including diplomats and international officials, across the Red Sea from Port Sudan to Jeddah, fighting resumed in Khartoum after a temporary truce saw gunfire momentarily die down on Friday, the first day of Eid al-Fitr.

Eid is normally a major celebration for Sudanese marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

This year it is marked by fear, grief and hunger.

Earlier on Saturday, Sudan’s army said its chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan had received calls from leaders of multiple countries to “facilitate and guarantee safety for evacuating citizens and diplomatic missions”.

It noted that the evacuations were expected to begin “in the coming hours”, adding that the US, Britain, France and China were planning to airlift their nationals out of Khartoum using military planes.

Burhan told Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV that the army was in control of “all airports, except for Khartoum airport” and one in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur.

Urban warfare began on April 15 between forces loyal to Burhan and those of his deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Dagalo commands the RSF, which emerged from the Janjaweed fighters unleashed in Darfur by former leader Omar al-Bashir, drawing accusations of war crimes.

‘Stench of blood’

On Saturday, heavy gunfire, loud explosions and fighter jets were heard in many parts of the capital, according to witnesses, despite the army announcing an agreement to a three-day ceasefire a day earlier.

Two 24-hour ceasefires announced earlier in the week were also ignored.

The RSF added in its Sunday statement that “we renew our commitment to a ceasefire during the declared truce, to open up humanitarian corridors and ensure the safety and wellbeing of the citizens”.

Dagalo said in a statement he had “discussed the current crisis” with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and was “focused on the humanitarian truce, safe passages, and protecting humanitarian workers”.

Five humanitarians, including four from UN-linked agencies, have so far been killed.

In Khartoum, a city of five million people, the conflict has left terrified civilians sheltering inside their homes. Many have ventured out only to get urgent food supplies — stocks of which are dwindling — or to flee the city.

While the capital has seen some of the fiercest battles, they have occurred across the country.

Battles have raged in Darfur, where Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the city of El Fasher said their medics had been “overwhelmed” by the number of patients with gunshot wounds, many of them children.

Crisis meeting

More plans are being made to evacuate foreigners, with South Korea and Japan deploying forces to nearby countries, and the European Union weighing a similar move.

The German ministers of defence and foreign affairs held a crisis meeting Saturday on a possible evacuation, after three military transport planes had to turn back Wednesday, according to German weekly Der Spiegel.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said more than 420 people had been killed and over 3,700 wounded in the fighting across Sudan, but the actual death toll is thought to be higher.

More than two-thirds of hospitals in Khartoum and neighbouring states are now “out of service”, and at least four hospitals in North Kordofan state were shelled, the doctors’ union said.

The World Food Programme said the violence could plunge millions more into hunger in a country where one-third of the population needs aid.

Burhan and Dagalo’s dispute centred on the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army, a key condition for a deal aimed at restoring Sudan’s democratic transition after the military toppled Bashir in April 2019 following mass citizen protests.

In October 2021, Burhan and Dagalo joined forces to oust a civilian government installed after Bashir’s downfall.

Dagalo now says the coup was a “mistake”, while Burhan believes it was “necessary” to include more groups into politics.

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