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U.S. military evacuates embassy personnel in embattled Sudan

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The US military has evacuated American government personnel from Khartoum, President Joe Biden says, adding Washington is suspending operations at its embassy as fighting between Sudan’s rival commanders continues.

“This tragic violence in Sudan has already cost the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians,” Biden said in a statement on Saturday.

“It’s unconscionable and it must stop.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement “all US personnel and their dependents” have been safely evacuated and the US would continue to assist Americans in Sudan plan for their safety.

All US government personnel and a small number of diplomatic personnel from other countries were evacuated in the operation, which removed fewer than 100 people, US officials said.

More than 100 US special operations forces were involved in the evacuation, entering and exiting Sudan without being fired upon by the warring factions on the ground, US military officials said.

Other foreign nationals began evacuating from a Red Sea port in Sudan on Saturday. 

Japan’s TBS news said United Nations staff members including Japanese nationals and their families would be evacuated from Sudan as early as Sunday.

The bloody onslaught of urban warfare has trapped large numbers in the Sudanese capital, disabling the airport and rendering some roads impassable.

The UN and foreign states have urged rival military leaders to honour declared ceasefires that have mostly been ignored and to open safe passage for fleeing civilians and the supply of much-needed aid.

Sudan’s sudden collapse into warfare dashed plans to restore civilian rule, brought an already impoverished country to the brink of humanitarian disaster, and threatened a wider conflict that could draw in outside powers four years after the overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising.

With the airport closed and skies unsafe, thousands of foreigners – including embassy staff, aid workers and students in Khartoum – have also been unable to leave Africa’s third-largest country.

Saudi Arabia has evacuated Gulf citizens from Port Sudan on the Red Sea, 650km from Khartoum and Jordan will use the same route for its nationals.

Western countries are expected to send planes for their citizens from Djibouti but it was not clear when that might be possible, with airports in Khartoum and Darfur’s biggest city, Nyala, problematic.

The army under Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the rival RSF, headed by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, have failed to observe ceasefires agreed upon almost daily since hostilities broke out on April 15.

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 al-Fitr. 

Each side accused the other of not respecting the truce.

“I don’t have a problem with the ceasefire,” Hemedti told Al Arabiya TV late on Saturday. 

Hemedti said the army “did not respect it”. 

“If they respect it, so will we,” he said.

Any let-up in fighting could accelerate a desperate rush to flee by many Khartoum residents, after days trapped in homes or districts under bombardment and with fighters roaming the streets.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres appealed for safe passage.

“We need ports of entry where we can bring specialist trauma staff and medical supplies,” Sudan operations manager Abdalla Hussein said.

The Sudanese doctors union said more than two-thirds of hospitals in conflict areas were out of service, with 32 forcibly evacuated by soldiers or caught in crossfire.

The World Health Organization said on Friday 413 people had been killed and 3551 injured since fighting broke out.

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