Rishi Sunak hails brave rescue effort to evacuate British diplomats from Sudan

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Rishi Sunak has hailed the brave efforts of the UK’s armed forces after they swooped into Sudan to help British diplomats and their families to escape fighting.

The Prime Minister said the British military had undertaken a “difficult” operation to evacuate UK officials from Sudan following fears embassy staff could be targeted.

Hundreds have died in a bloody conflict between the Sudanese army and a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces.

Mr Sunak tweeted: “UK armed forces have 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.

“I pay tribute to the commitment of our diplomats and bravery of the military personnel who carried out this difficult operation.”

It comes after a UK Government source had announced on Saturday that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Ministry of Defence would be delivering a diplomatic evacuation plan “as soon as feasible”.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace revealed the operation to remove British Embassy staff from Sudan involved more than 1,200 personnel from the British Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force (RAF).

“This morning, UK Armed Forces undertook a military operation alongside the United States; France and other allies,” Mr Wallace said in a written statement.

“They have evacuated British Embassy staff and their dependants from Khartoum due to the escalating threats against diplomats.

“The operation involved more than 1,200 personnel from 16 Air Assault Brigade; the Royal Marines and the RAF. I am grateful to all our partners.”

Prospects of airlifting people out of Sudan had been complicated by the fact most major airports have become battlegrounds and movement out of the capital has proven perilous.

The UK Government has stated that a more large-scale evacuation could prove a challenge, with Britain lacking the military footprint it had in Afghanistan which saw thousands airlifted out of Kabul during Operation Pitting in 2021.

Mr Sunak and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the UK would continue to act as a broker for a peace deal in Sudan.

Mr Cleverly said a “temporary lull” in the nine days of fighting had given Britain’s armed forces a window of opportunity to strike.

He defended prioritising an evacuation for what is thought to have been a small number of diplomats, arguing it would allow the UK Government to strengthen efforts to assist British nationals trapped in Sudan.

The Foreign Secretary told broadcasters: “The diplomats that were working in the British Embassy in Khartoum have been unable to discharge their functions because of the violence in that city.

“So, to fulfil our duty to protect them as their employer, we are relocating them to other embassies in the region.

“In order to continue to protect British nationals, we will of course be enhancing our teams in the region.

“This is following the pattern we have seen of our international friends and colleagues.

“We will continue on our diplomatic effort to bring this conflict to a swift conclusion because until that happens, we are severely limited in our ability to provide assistance to British nationals.”

The Prime Minister said his administration was pursuing “every avenue to end the bloodshed in Sudan” and ensure the safety of British nationals remaining there.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the UK would continue to act as a broker for a peace deal in Sudan (Yui Mok/PA)

Before the evacuation was announced, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jon Ashworth had said it was a “legitimate question” as to why the UK Government had not acted like others in removing staff and citizens from the country.

He also called for Parliament to be updated this week on the state of play in Sudan.

The US had at the time of Mr Ashworth’s interview with Sky News already announced a successful airlift mission to assist about 70 embassy staff into Ethiopia.

France, Greece, the Netherlands and Italy are putting aircraft in place to carry out similar operations.

In a joint statement, Labour shadow foreign secretary David Lammy and shadow defence secretary John Healey said Britain’s armed forces “acted with bravery and professionalism”.

The pair called on ministers to set out their plans for providing assistance to Britons still in Sudan.

They said: “Many British nationals remain stuck in Sudan and we are deeply concerned about their welfare.

“We need to know about Government plans to help them and the steps the UK is taking to support an immediate ceasefire.”

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