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(Photo: Maheen S/AP)

Sudan: Evacuations begin

April 22, 2023
(Photo: Maheen S/AP)

(CNN) — Saudi Arabia has become the first country to announce evacuations of its stranded citizens from Sudan, a week after intense fighting broke out there between two rival forces.

The Saudi foreign ministry said “several nationals of brotherly and friendly countries” were being evacuated along with the Saudi citizens. Kuwaiti citizens are among the dozens of people brought to safety but it is not clear which other nationals are involved.

The announcement came after both the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) said they were ready to help evacuate foreign nationals.

The SAF said in a statement Saturday that its leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has “agreed to provide the necessary assistance” to facilitate the safe evacuation of foreign citizens from the country in response to “calls from a number of heads of states.”

“The evacuation of all missions whose countries made such a request is expected to begin within the coming hours, as the United States, the UK, France, and China will evacuate their diplomats and nationals by air by military transport aircrafts belonging to their respective armed forces from Khartoum and this is expected to begin immediately,” the SAF said in the statement, posted on its Facebook page.

A US State Department spokesperson told CNN that the department was “aware of that statement” from SAF about the evacuation of diplomatic missions.

“We’re in touch with our embassy, which has confirmed that all US government employees are accounted for and in a safe location,” the spokesperson said. “Given that the US military has pre-positioned forces nearby in the region, we are prepared to conduct a military-assisted evacuation of US government personnel if circumstances require it.”

Fierce fighting broke out in Sudan last Saturday between the SAF and the paramilitary RSF, led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

The two are former allies but tensions between them arose during negotiations to integrate the RSF into the country’s military as part of plans to restore civilian rule.

More than 420 people have been killed and 3,700 injured in the fighting, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and on the ground the humanitarian situation is worsening.

The UN says people are increasingly fleeing areas hit by fighting, including Khartoum. Up to 20,000 refugees have arrived in neighboring Chad, the UN says.

On Saturday, fresh clashes between the two groups shattered a three-day ceasefire declared for the Muslim holiday of Eid.

Fighting was reported in Khartoum on Saturday, with witnesses telling CNN fierce clashes were taking place in the vicinity of the presidential palace and the sounds of explosions and warplanes flying overhead could be heard.

Dagalo said he spoke to French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on Saturday and they discussed “the current situation, the reasons that led to the exacerbation of the situation” and the possibility of opening evacuation corridors.

Also on Saturday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak chaired an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.

CNN has learned that British evacuation efforts will not be happening imminently, but a government spokesperson told CNN they were doing “everything possible” to support British nationals.

A spokesperson for the European Union said that an estimated 1,500 citizens from various EU countries are currently in Sudan.

“They are facing a very difficult situation and their safety is a priority. We urge both sides (the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces) to stop fighting and allow for safe passage out of the country,” the spokesperson said, adding the EU was working with member states to find solutions and get these people out of the country.

It is unclear how many US citizens are in Sudan. The State Department does not keep official counts of US citizens in foreign countries and Americans are not required to register when they go abroad. US State Department officials told staffers estimated 16,000 American citizens in Sudan, most of whom are dual nationals.

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