Sudan’s army said on Saturday it was helping to evacuate foreign nationals from the country after a week of strife that has killed hundreds of civilians, even as its forces battled paramilitary rivals in Khartoum, including with air strikes.
The statement citing army chief Abdel Fatteh al-Burhan came after promises by rival Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, to open airports for evacuations.
The two sides have so far failed to observe ceasefires agreed almost daily since hostilities broke out on April 15, including a three day truce to allow citizens to reach safety and visit family during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
Any let-up in fighting on Saturday could accelerate a desperate rush by many Khartoum residents to flee after spending days trapped in their homes or local districts under bombardment and with fighters roaming the streets.
With the airport closed and 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.
However, the army said several countries would evacuate diplomats and other nationals “in the coming hours”, with Saudi Arabians and Jordanians leaving via Port Sudan, 650 km (400 miles) from Khartoum.
Burhan said the army was providing safe pathways for evacuations but that some airports including in Khartoum and Darfur’s largest city Nyala were still problematic.
In the first report of a successful evacuation, Kuwait’s foreign ministry said that after an “emergency operation” of Kuwaiti citizens wishing to leave Sudan arrived safely in the city of Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. embassy in Khartoum said it had received “incomplete information” about large convoys leaving the capital for Port Sudan, adding that the embassy was unable to assist such convoys and that travel was at individuals’ own risk.
Residents of Khartoum and the adjoining sister cities of Omdurman and Bahri said fighting intensified on Saturday morning, with air strikes near the state broadcaster and gun battles in several areas including near the army headquarters.
Live television feeds showed a huge cloud of black smoke rising from Khartoum airport and the sound of shooting and artillery booms.
“These horrible planes are back. I never want to hear another airplane again,” said a Khartoum resident, referring to the fighter jets aiming strikes at rebel positions.