Khartoum (Sudan) |The US military airlifted embassy officials out of Sudan on Sunday and international governments raced to evacuate their diplomatic staff and citizens trapped in the capital as rival generals battled for control of Africa's third-largest country for a ninth straight day.
Fighting raged in Omdurman, the city across the Nile from Sudan's capital, Khartoum, residents reported. The violence came despite a declared truce that was to coincide with the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
“We did not see such a truce,” said Amin al-Tayed from his home near state television headquarters in Omdurman. He said heavy gunfire and thundering explosions rocked the city. “The battles did not stop,” he said.
Thick black smoke filled the sky over Khartoum's airport. The paramilitary group battling the Sudanese armed forces claimed the military unleashed airstrikes on the upscale neighbourhood of Kafouri, north of Khartoum. There was no immediate comment from the army.
After a week of bloody battles hindered rescue efforts, US special forces swiftly evacuated some 70 US embassy staffers from Khartoum to an undisclosed location in Ethiopia early Sunday.
Although American officials said it was still too dangerous to carry out a government-coordinated mass evacuation of private citizens, other countries scrambled to evacuate their citizens and diplomats.
France and the Netherlands said Sunday they were organising evacuations for embassy employees and nationals, along with some citizens of allied countries.
French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said France was undertaking the operation with the help of European partners.
The Netherlands sent two air force Hercules C-130 planes and an Airbus A330 to Jordan ahead of a possible rescue mission. "We deeply sympathise with the Dutch in Sudan and will make every effort to evacuate people where and when possible," said Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren.
The fighting between the Sudanese armed forces and the powerful paramilitary group, known as the Rapid Support Forces, has targeted and paralysed the country's main international airport, reducing a number of civilian aircraft to ruins and gutting at least one runway. Other airports across the country have also been knocked out of operation.
Overland travel across areas contested by the warring parties has proven dangerous. Khartoum is some some 840 kilometres (520 miles) from Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
But some countries have pressed ahead with the journey. Saudi Arabia on Saturday said the kingdom successfully evacuated 157 people, including 91 Saudi nationals and citizens of other countries.
Saudi state TV released footage of a large convoy of Saudis and other foreign nationals travelling by car and bus from Khartoum to Port Sudan, where a navy ship then ferried the evacuees across the Red Sea to the Saudi port of Jeddah.
The power struggle between the Sudanese military, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, has dealt a harsh blow to Sudan's heady hopes for a democratic transition.
More than 400 people, including 264 civilians, have been killed and more than 3,500 have been wounded in the fighting.
Hospitals say they are struggling to cope. Many dead and wounded have been stranded by the fighting, according to the Sudan Doctors' Syndicate that monitors casualties, suggesting the death toll is probably far higher than what is publicly known.
The fighting has left millions of Sudanese stranded at home — hiding from explosions, gunfire and looting — without adequate electricity, food or water.
On Sunday, the country experienced a “near-total collapse” of internet connection, according to NetBlocks.org, an internet monitoring service. Thousands of Sudanese have fled the combat in Khartoum for the suburbs.
“The capital has become a ghost city,” said Atiya Abdalla Atiya, secretary of the Doctors' Syndicate. “Half of the population have fled and the rest are looking desperately for a way to get out of this hell.” The fighting has trapped civilians — including foreign diplomats — in the crossfire. Fighters attacked a clearly marked US Embassy convoy last week, and stormed the home of the European Union ambassador to Sudan.
On Sunday, gunfire wounded an Egyptian diplomat in Sudan, said Ahmed Abu Zaid, spokesman for Egypt's Foreign Ministry, without offering further details.
The current explosion of violence came after Burhan and Dagalo fell out over a recent internationally brokered deal with democracy activists that was meant to incorporate the RSF into the military and eventually lead to civilian rule.
The rival generals rose to power in the tumultuous aftermath of popular uprisings that led to the ouster of Sudan's longtime ruler, Omar al-Bashir, in 2019.
Two years later, they joined forces to seize power in a coup that ousted the civilian leaders and opened a troubled new chapter in the country's history.