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Sudan army says U.S., Britain and others to evacuate diplomats

Sudan’s military on Saturday said countries such as the United States, Britain, France and China would evacuate their diplomatic staff “within the coming hours,” as fighting between rival forces there entered a second week, raising fears of a wider conflict in the Horn of Africa.

In a statement, the Sudanese Armed Forces said that its leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, had agreed to facilitate and secure the evacuation of foreign nationals from the capital, Khartoum, after requests from multiple countries. The army said those nations, including the United States, would use their own military aircraft to evacuate citizens and diplomatic staffers, even as the main airport in Khartoum remained closed.

In recent days, the United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan and the Netherlands all said that they sent planes and troops to Sudan’s neighbors to prepare for emergency evacuations. But there was no immediate confirmation Saturday that rescue operations were planned or underway.

The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum on Saturday said that it remained under a shelter-in-place order because of “ongoing fighting, gunfire, and security forces activity” in the city and surrounding areas. Some 16,000 U.S. citizens are in Sudan, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

“It is not currently safe to undertake a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of private U.S. citizens,” the embassy said on Twitter.

Tagreed Abdin, a resident of Khartoum, explains her family’s decision to stay in Sudan’s capital amid intense fighting that has so far killed over 400 people. (Video: Joe Snell/The Washington Post)

China’s embassy said in a statement that it was still gathering information on how many Chinese nationals in Sudan wished to evacuate. A state-owned newspaper in China cited embassy staff as saying it was “fake news” that the government would begin withdrawing personnel on Saturday.

“Please stay faithful that the motherland will never forget any overseas compatriots and that the embassy will always stand firmly behind everyone,” the embassy said in an earlier notice posted Friday.

Nations plan Sudan evacuations amid calls for Eid holiday cease-fire

The conflicting reports underscored the chaos that has engulfed Sudan since fighting broke out between the army and a rival paramilitary group, known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), earlier this month. Burhan, who leads the armed forces, has been locked in a power struggle with the RSF’s top commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Together, the two generals seized control of Sudan in a coup in 2021, toppling a short-lived civilian government. In December, they signed a framework deal to transition the country back to civilian rule — but disagreed over key elements, including how to reintegrate the RSF, which grew out of the Janjaweed militias in Darfur, into the armed forces.

The two sides began fighting in Khartoum and other cities on April 15, just days after the deadline to form a civilian government passed. At least 400 people have been killed, according to the Sudanese health ministry, with thousands more injured and refugees now streaming into Chad from the Darfur region in western Sudan.

Conflict in Sudan has killed over 400, including an American. Here’s what to know.

The violence also has closed hospitals and airports, preventing evacuations. The RSF said in a statement late Friday that it was willing to open airports to allow countries to evacuate their nationals — but it is unclear how many airports the RSF controls.

Burhan said his forces controlled all of Sudan’s airports except for one in Khartoum and another in the southwestern city of Nyala.

“Living conditions are deteriorating, and we share the international community’s concern about foreign nationals,” he said in an interview Saturday with the Saudi television station Al-Hadath.

Still, some foreign governments said they had successfully evacuated citizens or were preparing to do so. Nineteen Italians aboard a cruise ship in the waters of Port Sudan were taken safely to the Egyptian city of Hurghada on the Red Sea, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said Saturday on Twitter. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sinan al-Majali, also said on television that his government began evacuating at least 300 Jordanian citizens in coordination with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia’s naval forces evacuated 91 citizens and more than 60 foreign nationals from countries including Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh, India and Canada, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday.

Families stream out of Sudan’s capital amid apocalyptic scenes of fighting

The evacuations fell during celebrations for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The warring factions said they had agreed to a temporary cease-fire for the holiday.

Previous efforts to achieve temporary cease-fires have failed, and for days, gunfire and shelling have trapped residents at home as their supplies dwindle.

A Sudanese science teacher in Khartoum said that fighting continued in the capital and that the residents who remained were angry about reports that there was a cease-fire.

“Anything we hear in the news is a lie,” he said speaking on the condition of anonymity for security reasons. “The fire is getting stronger. We can’t stay here. If you do not die from the bombs, you will die of hunger. There is nothing in the markets to eat.”

Human rights monitor Ahmed Gouja, based in Nyala, Darfur, described the atmosphere there as “calm” with markets “partially functioning” on Saturday. But he said “grave violations” had been committed by the Sudanese army’s soldiers in Nyala, including beatings, arrests and harassment of residents on the basis of skin color.

“Everyone is working on getting their nationals out of the country. And we’re being left at the mercy of these two men,” tweeted Khartoum resident Dallia Mohamed Abdelmoniem, whose home was hit by a mortar this week before she fled with her family.

Thwiba Eltom, a Sudanese American who lives in New York, said in a phone interview that she knew Sudan was “not stable” when she traveled there with her two kids to visit her mother and sister for spring break. But she didn’t expect a large-scale conflict to erupt.

Now, Eltom and her children are trapped in Omdurman north of Khartoum, surrounded by the sounds of missiles and gunfire, and venturing out only for water and food. But it’s also too dangerous to flee by land, she said.

“It’s very hard to make a decision at this point” about whether to attempt to leave, she said. “We don’t have any clarity from the U.S. Embassy. I hope the State Department will take action because we’re literally under fire right now.”

The Defense Department was staging troops near Sudan in the event U.S. personnel need to be evacuated, Biden administration officials said Thursday. But any U.S. evacuation would carry political risks at home and in Africa, said Cameron Hudson, a former chief of staff to U.S. presidential special envoys for Sudan.

In the United States, the administration could face backlash if the withdrawal goes awry, so soon after the chaotic U.S. pullout from Afghanistan in 2021. At the same time, the United States has sought to prove its commitment to the African continent, amid similar efforts by China and Russia to gain influence there.

“The potential image of us cherry-picking Americans out of the embassy while we leave the city to burn really runs counter to the messaging that we’ve been sending for the last year in Africa,” Hudson said. “Our foreign policy is bumping up against our domestic policy and interests. It’s ugly and it’s callous, but it’s sort of the political reality right now.”

Parker reported from Washington, Houreld from Nairobi, and Francis from London. Kareem Fahim in Istanbul, Sarah Dadouch in Beirut, Lyric Li in Seoul and Cate Cadell and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.


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