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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Guardian staff and agencies

Sudan: US evacuates embassy staff and families, France launches rescue for ‘Europeans and allies’

Smokes rises from buildings in Khartoum
Smoke rises from buildings in Khartoum after intense shelling and gunfights. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The US military has evacuated embassy staff and families from Khartoum, according to Joe Biden, as other countries are also scrambling to get their nationals out of Sudan amid continued fighting.

France’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that a “rapid evacuation operation” had begun, and that European citizens and those from “allied partner countries” would also be assisted, without giving further details.

On Saturday night, US special forces in Chinook helicopters reportedly swept in to evacuate about 70 Americans who were taken from a landing zone at the embassy to an undisclosed location in Ethiopia, according to US officials.

British embassy staff would be evacuated “as soon as feasible” due to safety fears following attacks on diplomatic missions, a UK government source told PA Media. But any evacuation would be “incredibly limited” and focused on the small number of British civil servants based in Khartoum.

Britons were continuing to be advised to ensure they had registered their presence with the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) and to stay indoors.

“Due to the increasing attacks on diplomatic missions, we will be evacuating our HMG staff as soon as feasible,” a UK government source told PA Media. “It’s likely any evacuation will be incredibly limited due to the small number of UK staff in the country, and British nationals should remain in a place of shelter.

“There is currently no suggestion British nationals are being actively targeted by armed factions.”

The source said UK options were “likely to be extremely limited for the foreseeable”. They added: “We do not expect any major change in our travel advice to Sudan for British nationals in the coming days.”

Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, one of the warring sides, said a US forces mission consisting of six aircraft evacuated American diplomats and their families.

Biden, the US president, said in a statement: “This tragic violence in Sudan has already cost the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians. It’s unconscionable and it must stop. The belligerent parties must implement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and respect the will of the people of Sudan.”

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the Sudanese armed forces (SAF) and the nation’s de facto ruler, reportedly agreed to facilitate the evacuation of a number of diplomats and nationals from multiple countries. It came after a promise by his rival – the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti – to open airports for evacuations.

The British government said it was “doing everything possible” to support nationals trapped in Sudan. Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, chaired a Cobra meeting on Saturday morning with the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, and the Africa minister, Andrew Mitchell.

A UK government spokesperson said: “We recognise that the situation is extremely concerning for British nationals trapped by the fighting in Sudan. We are doing everything possible to support British nationals and diplomatic staff in Khartoum, and the Ministry of Defence is working with the Foreign Office to prepare for a number of contingencies.”

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said: “We will continue to assist Americans in Sudan in planning for their own safety and provide regular updates to US citizens in the area.” Blinken reiterated calls for parties to the fighting to extend an Eid al-Fitr ceasefire into a sustainable cessation of hostilities.

Some foreign nationals began evacuating from a Red Sea port in Sudan on Saturday, Reuters reported, as airstrikes again rocked Khartoum. The capital’s airport has been repeatedly targeted and many people have been unable to leave their homes or get out of the city to safer areas. Saudi Arabia has evacuated Gulf citizens from Port Sudan on the Red Sea, 400 miles from Khartoum, and Jordan will use the same route for its nationals.

Western countries were expected to send planes for their citizens from Djibouti, though the Sudanese army said airports in Khartoum and Darfur’s biggest city, Nyala, were problematic and it was not clear when that might be possible.

Saturday’s fighting breached 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. Each side accused the other of not respecting the truce.

The conflict has pitted army units loyal to Burhan against the RSF, whose leader, Hemedti, is deputy head of the ruling council. Their power struggle has derailed a shift to civilian rule and raised the spectre of civil war.

The fighting has killed more than 400 people and injured more than 3,500, according to the World Health Organization. Battles continue to rage on the streets of Khartoum, stoking fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Heavy explosions that had rocked the city in recent days subsided overnight but bursts of gunfire resumed on Saturday morning. Heavy gunfire, loud explosions and fighter jets overhead were heard in many parts of the capital, according to witnesses.

The UN has said between 10,000 and 20,000 people have already fled to Sudan’s western neighbour Chad – which is already hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The US and France have bases in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa. Sunak spoke to the president of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh, on Friday.

British officials said the Ministry of Defence was engaged in “prudent planning”, but would not otherwise comment on what other action would be taken.

Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, said on Friday afternoon that the US had deployed military forces “in theatre” – meaning in countries relatively close to Sudan – to give the White House choices as to how to proceed, with 19,000 US citizens estimated to be stuck in the country.

“Our focus is to make sure that we continue to do planning, that we create and maintain as many options for our president as possible,” he said at a press conference in Ramstein, Germany.

The UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, cut short a tour of New Zealand and Samoa to return to the UK to focus on its response to the crisis in Sudan, as well as to launch high-level diplomacy in an attempt to move the two warring parties towards a ceasefire.

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