(The Guardian) The UK will evacuate diplomats and nationals currently trapped in Sudan by the outbreak of fighting, the Sudanese army chief has said.
The US, France and China are also set to remove their nationals, according to a statement on Saturday citing Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the Sudanese armed forces (SAF) and the nation’s de facto ruler.
It said Burhan had 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.”
British and US troops are being moved closer to Sudan amid growing speculation of a forthcoming evacuation as the conflict enters a second week. The British embassy in the capital, Khartoum, is trying to compile a list of those who want to flee.
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, sparking fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.
The Saudi government said it had begun arranging to remove its citizens, as well as nationals of “brotherly” countries, from Sudan. Burhan later said the kingdom’s diplomatic mission had already left.
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 United Nations has said between 10,000 and 20,000 people have already fled to 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, has 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.