Sudan army says it will help foreigners leave amid fighting

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The Sudanese army has said it is coordinating efforts to evacuate foreign citizens and diplomats from Sudan on military aircraft, as the bloody fighting that has engulfed the vast African nation entered its second week.

Army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Burhan said he would facilitate the evacuation of American, British, Chinese and French citizens and diplomats from Sudan after speaking with the leaders of several countries that had requested help.

The prospect has vexed officials as most major airports have become battlegrounds and movement out of the capital, Khartoum, has proven intensely dangerous.

Gen Burhan “agreed to provide the necessary assistance to secure such evacuations for various countries”, Sudan’s military said.

Questions have swirled over how the mass rescues of foreign citizens would unfold, with Sudan’s main international airport closed and millions of people sheltering indoors.

Smoke over Khartoum, Sudan (Marwan Ali/AP)

The White House would not confirm the Sudanese military’s announcement. “We have made very clear to both sides that they are responsible for ensuring the protection of civilians and noncombatants,” the National Security Council said.

On Friday, the US said it had no plans for a government-coordinated evacuation of the estimated 16,000 American citizens trapped in Sudan.

Saudi Arabia announced the successful repatriation of some of its citizens on Saturday, sharing footage of Saudi nationals and other foreigners welcomed with chocolate and flowers as they stepped off an apparent evacuation ship at the Saudi port of Jeddah.

Officials did not elaborate on exactly how the rescue unfolded but Gen Burhan said the Saudi diplomats and nationals had first travelled by land to Port Sudan, the country’s main seaport on the Red Sea.

He said that Jordan’s diplomats would soon be evacuated in the same way. The port is in Sudan’s far east, some 520 miles from Khartoum.

In a security alert, the US Embassy in Sudan said it had “incomplete information about significant convoys departing Khartoum travelling towards Port Sudan” and that the situation remained dangerous. “Traveling in any convoy is at your own risk,” it said.

With the US focused on evacuating diplomats first, the Pentagon said it was moving additional troops and equipment to a Naval base in the tiny Gulf of Aden nation of Djibouti to prepare for the effort.

Gen Burhan told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya satellite channel on Saturday that flights in and out of Khartoum remained risky because of the ongoing clashes.

He claimed that the military had regained control over all the other airports in the country, except for one in the southwestern city of Nyala.

“We share the international community’s concern about foreign nationals,” he said, promising Sudan would provide “necessary airports and safe passageways” for foreigners trapped in the fighting, without elaborating.

Even as the warring sides said on Friday they had agreed to a ceasefire for the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, explosions and gunfire rang out across Khartoum on Saturday.

Two ceasefire attempts earlier this week also rapidly collapsed.

Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, chief of the paramilitary group fighting the army, known as the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, claimed he would work toward “opening humanitarian corridors, to facilitate the movement of citizens and enable all countries to evacuate their nationals to safe places”.

“We are committed to a complete ceasefire,” he told French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.

The clashes have killed more than 400 people so far, according to the World Health Organisation.

The international airport near the centre of the capital has come under heavy shelling as the paramilitary group, RSF, has tried to take control of the compound.

In an apparent effort to oust the RSF fighters, the Sudanese army has pounded the airport with air strikes, ruining at least one runway and leaving wrecked planes scattered on the tarmac. The full extent of damage at the airfield remains unclear.

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