- The US has evacuated personnel on the operation from Djibouti
- The UK said armed forces had expelled its embassy staff
- Heavy fighting continues during the Eid holiday
- There are many trapped residents trying to escape Khartoum
KHARTOUM, April 23 (Reuters) – The United States and the United Kingdom said their armed forces had helped staff from both embassies leave Sudan, but evacuees from several other countries faced problems on Sunday amid fighting the rival military factions in the capital Khartoum.
The outbreak of fighting eight days ago between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group triggered a humanitarian crisis, killing 400 people and trapping thousands of civilians in their homes.
As people tried to flee the chaos and foreign countries tried to pull out their compatriots, gunfire echoed throughout the capital and dark smoke billowed overhead, a Reuters reporter said.
The warring sides accused each other of attacking a convoy of French nationals, with both claiming one Frenchman was injured. France’s Foreign Ministry, which had previously said it was evacuating diplomatic staff and citizens, did not comment.
The army also accused the RSF of attacking and robbing a Qatari convoy en route to Port Sudan. Doha did not issue an immediate statement on any incident.
Egypt said a member of its mission in Sudan was wounded by a shot, without giving details.
President Joe Biden said the US had temporarily suspended operations at its embassy in Khartoum but remained committed to the Sudanese people, repeating calls for a ceasefire.
“The warring parties must implement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and respect the will of the people of Sudan,” Biden said in a statement.
Pope Francis appealed for an end to violence during his midday prayer on Sunday in Rome.
Fighting erupted in Khartoum, along with its neighboring sister cities of Omdurman and Bahri, and the rest of the country on April 15, four years after long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir was ousted during a popular uprising.
The army and RSF jointly staged a coup in 2021 but collapsed during negotiations over a plan to form a civilian government and integrate the RSF into the armed forces.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the country’s armed forces had evacuated diplomatic staff and their family members.
US officials said special forces using aircraft including MH-47 Chinook helicopters swept into the conflict-torn Sudanese capital on Saturday from the US base in Djibouti, spending just a time on the ground to release fewer than 100 people.
“We didn’t take any small arms on the way in and were able to get in and out without issue,” said Lieutenant General Douglas Sims, the director of operations at the military’s Joint Staff.
Chris Maier, an assistant secretary of defense, said the US military could use drone or satellite imagery to detect threats to Americans traveling on land routes out of Sudan, or position assets of navy at Port Sudan to help the Americans arriving there.
Sudan’s sudden descent into warfare has slowed plans to restore civilian rule, brought an impoverished country to the brink of humanitarian disaster and threatened a wider conflict that could draw in outside powers.
Beyond Khartoum, reports of the worst violence have come from Darfur, a western region bordering Chad that has suffered an escalating conflict since 2003 that has left 300,000 people dead and 2.7 million displaced.
The army under Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF, led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, failed to observe ceasefires agreed on almost daily, including a three-day truce for on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which began on Friday.
For the first time since the fighting began, a video was posted that briefly showed Hemedti wearing body armor in the passenger seat of a pick-up truck, surrounded by cheering troops, near the presidential palace of Khartoum.
Reuters was able to confirm the location by having the buildings and road layouts seen in the video match satellite imagery of the area, but could not independently verify the date the video was shot.
Burhan said Monday that he was based at army headquarters in central Khartoum, about 2 km (1.2 miles) from the palace.
Fighting continued around the army HQ and the airport, which was closed by clashes, and for the past two days in Bahri, where the army used ground troops as well as air strikes to try to push back the RSF.
The RSF said on Sunday that its forces had been targeted by air strikes in Bahri’s Kafouri district and that dozens had been “killed and wounded”.
RSF forces were heavily deployed on streets and on bridges across the capital, with army troops visible in parts of Omdurman, a Reuters reporter said. On the other hand, the neighborhoods are almost devoid of civilians and ordinary life.
In Bahri, a video verified by Reuters showed a large market burning. Residents have reported looting in the district, which is home to industrial zones containing important flour mills.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus, described many deadly attacks on health facilities. “Paramedics, frontline nurses and doctors are often unable to access the injured and the injured cannot reach facilities,” he tweeted.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum, Ahmed Elimam and Hatem Maher in Cairo, Daphne Psaledakis and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alex Richardson
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.