Discussions of a ceasefire in Sudan raised hopes on Saturday that foreign nationals stranded in the country amid heavy fighting between rival military groups could soon be evacuated.
Sudan’s de facto president and commander-in-chief of the army, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said he has agreed to facilitate the evacuation of foreign civilians and diplomats from the embattled country.
A Sudanese army spokesman said in a statement on Saturday that the United States, Britain, France, and China would begin evacuating from the capital Khartoum “in the coming hours” using military transport aircraft.
By Saturday evening, however, no citizens of Western countries had been evacuated.
Al-Burhan has pledged to “facilitate and guarantee” the evacuations and to provide the countries with “the necessary support to ensure this,” the army spokesman said.
The rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which has been openly fighting the Sudanese army for the past week, also said in a statement it was “ready for a complete ceasefire” to allow evacuations.
However, apparent ceasefire agreements have been repeatedly violated during the conflict.
As clashes continue, Sudanese citizens are also trying to flee the fighting.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), up to 20,000 people have already fled to neighbouring Chad in the past few days.
Thousands more people have been displaced from heavily contested areas within the country.
Meanwhile, a Saudi Arabian delegation has already been evacuated from the eastern city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea, the army spokesman said, adding that a Jordanian delegation was also to be flown out of Port Sudan, some 850 kilometres from the Sudanese capital, later on Saturday.
According to the Saudi television station al-Arabiya, five Saudi ships also brought 158 people from Sudan to the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
Among them were diplomats and citizens from Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, Canada, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, India, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, and the Philippines, according to the Saudi Foreign Ministry.
In Sudan, the army is in control of all airports except those in Khartoum and the town of Njala in the South Darfur region, al-Burhan told Al-Arabiya.
The country’s de facto president said he remained in control of the army and would only let his rival and former deputy Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, the leader of the RSF, get away “in a coffin.”
Fighting broke out in Sudan about a week ago between the north-eastern African country’s two most powerful generals and their respective military units.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 413 people have been killed and more than 3,500 have been injured since the fighting began.
The airport in the capital Khartoum has been at the centre of the clashes and was therefore inaccessible.
Diplomats have been trying for days to secure a resilient ceasefire for the evacuation of foreign citizens.
After a brief ceasefire on Friday due to the Muslim Eid al-Fitr celebrations that mark the end of Ramadan, fighting continued overnight.
On Saturday morning, Khartoum was bombed again, a reporter at the scene told dpa.
Shots rang out in the city, and eyewitnesses reported hearing explosions in the capital on Twitter.
The ceasefire largely held during the night, the reporter said. There were only “sporadic clashes.”
The US embassy in Khartoum said on Saturday that the ongoing fighting and closure of the airport in the capital made it currently impossible to evacuate US citizens.
The embassy continues to closely monitor the situation in Khartoum and surrounding areas, it said in a statement.
Apart from the fighting between the rival forces, there are currently reports of attacks, home invasions and looting.
Spain, meanwhile, sent four aircraft to the east African country of Djibouti to facilitate evacuations of its nationals and other foreign citizens from Sudan, according to media reports.
Two more planes are still to follow on Saturday, Spanish Defence Minister, Margarita Robles was quoted as saying by the Europa Press news agency. Djibouti is located some 1,200 kilometres south-east of Khartoum.
Some of the Spanish cargo planes were carrying special forces and armoured vehicles to safely evacuate civilians if necessary, the minister said.
As Khartoum airport is currently closed, “you have to get overland to a nearby airfield, but we have very well-prepared special forces,” Robles was quoted as saying.
An evacuation will only be possible when there is an “effective and genuine ceasefire,” Robles added.
According to the German Defence Ministry, the country’s armed forces, or Bundeswehr, are preparing for a new attempt to evacuate German citizens.
On Wednesday, an attempt at a diplomatic evacuation with air force planes had been aborted.
The Swedish government plans to ask parliament to authorize on Sunday the deployment of an armed unit to Sudan to support an evacuation mission, Foreign Minister Tobias Billström and Defense Minister Pål Jonson said on Saturday evening.
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