- Heavier fighting within the capital
- Some Gulf citizens left from Port Sudan
- Aid workers appealing for safe passage
KHARTOUM, April 22 (Reuters) – The U.S. military has evacuated American diplomats and their families from Sudan, the country’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) said early on Sunday as fighting continued between the rival commanders who killed hundreds of civilians.
The operation, involving six aircraft, was carried out in coordination with the RSF, it said.
Separately, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters that the US military had successfully evacuated the US embassy staff. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Other foreigners began evacuating from a Red Sea port in Sudan on Saturday.
The bloody onslaught of urban warfare has trapped large numbers in the Sudanese capital, disabling the airport and making some roads impassable.
The United Nations and foreign states have urged rival military leaders to respect declared ceasefires that have largely been ignored, and to open safe passage for fleeing civilians and the supply of much-needed aid. .
With the airport closed and the skies unsafe, thousands of foreigners – including embassy staff, aid workers and students in Khartoum and elsewhere in Africa’s third-largest country – have also been unable to get out.
Saudi Arabia evacuated Gulf citizens from Port Sudan on the Red Sea, 650 km (400 miles) from Khartoum. Jordan will use the same route for its citizens.
Western countries are expected to send planes for their citizens from Djibouti, though the Sudanese army has said airports in Khartoum and Darfur’s largest city Nyala are problematic and it is unclear when this will be possible.
A foreign diplomat who asked not to be identified said some diplomatic staff in Khartoum were expected to be evacuated by air from Port Sudan in the next two days. The US Embassy has warned Americans that it cannot assist convoys from Khartoum to Port Sudan and that travel is at the individual’s own risk.
The army, under Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the rival Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, have so far failed to abide by ceasefires agreed almost daily- days since the fighting broke out on April 15.
Saturday’s fighting violated what was meant to be a three-day truce from Friday to allow citizens to reach safety and visit family during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. Both sides accused the other of not respecting the truce.
“I have no problem with the ceasefire,” Hemedti told Al Arabiya TV on Saturday. “They (the army) don’t respect it. If they respect it, so do we.”
‘TIME OF TERROR’
Any pause in the fighting could accelerate a desperate rush to flee by many Khartoum residents, after days of being trapped in homes or districts under bombardment and with fighters roaming the streets.
Residents of Khartoum and the neighboring cities of Omdurman and Bahri reported air strikes near the state broadcaster and clashes in several areas including near the army headquarters.
A Bahri resident said there has been no water or electricity for a week and frequent air strikes. “We are waiting for the big fight. We are very afraid of what is coming,” she said, messaging later: “It’s started.”
Another resident, Muhammad Siddiq, from Bahri’s Shambat district, said: “We experienced times of fear today, with clashes and gunfire between the army and the RSF inside the neighborhood, and bullets everywhere.”
TV feeds showed a huge cloud of black smoke rising from Khartoum airport.
The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) appealed for safe passage. “We need ports of entry where we can bring in specialist trauma staff and medical supplies,” said MSF Sudan operations manager Abdalla Hussein.
The Sudanese doctors’ union said more than two-thirds of hospitals in the conflict areas were out of service, with 32 either forcibly evacuated by soldiers or caught in the crossfire.
Beyond Khartoum, reports of the worst violence came from Darfur, a western region that has suffered a conflict that has escalated since 2003 and left 300,000 people dead and 2.7 million displaced.
According to a UN update on Saturday, looters took at least 10 World Food Program vehicles and six other food trucks after overrunning the agency’s offices and warehouses in Nyala, south Darfur.
Sudan’s sudden descent into warfare has undermined 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, four years after of ousting longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising.
There is no sign yet that either side can secure a quick victory or is ready to talk. The army has air power but the RSF is widely embedded in urban areas.
Burhan said Saturday that “we all need to sit down as Sudanese and find the right way to restore hope and life,” his most conciliatory comments since the conflict began.
Ahead of the clashes, he declared the RSF a rebel force, ordered its disbandment, and said a military solution was the only option. Hemedti said on Saturday that he cannot negotiate with Burhan.
Since Bashir’s ouster and after a coup in 2021, Burhan and Hemedti have held top positions in a ruling council meant to hand over civilian rule and merge the RSF with the army.
The World Health Organization reported on Friday that 413 people have been killed and 3,551 injured since the fighting broke out. The death toll includes at least five aid workers in a country that relies on food aid.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum and Nafisa Eltahir in Cairo Writing by Angus McDowall Editing by Frances Kerry
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