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KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Foreign governments evacuated diplomats, staff and others trapped in Sudan on Sunday as rival generals battled for a ninth day with no sign of a truce that had been declared for a major Muslim holiday.
While world powers like the U.S. and Britain airlifted their diplomats from the capital of Khartoum, Sudanese desperately sought to flee the chaos. Many risked dangerous roads to seek safer spots or crossed the northern frontier into Egypt.
“My family — my mother, my siblings and my nephews — are on the road from Sudan to Cairo through Aswan,” prominent Sudanese filmmaker Amjad Abual-Ala wrote on Facebook.
Fighting raged in Omdurman, a city across the Nile from Khartoum, residents said, despite a hoped-for cease-fire to coincide with the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
“We did not see such a truce,” Amin al-Tayed said from his home near state TV headquarters in Omdurman, adding that heavy gunfire and thundering explosions rocked the city.
More than 420 people, including 264 civilians, have been killed and more than 3,700 have been wounded in the fighting between the Sudanese armed forces and the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF.
In Sunday’s fighting, a senior military official said army and police repelled an RSF attack on Koper Prison in Khartoum where Sudan’s longtime ruler, Omar al-Bashir, and former officials in his movement have been imprisoned since his ouster in 2019. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said a number of prisoners fled but al-Bashir and other high-profile inmates were still held in a “highly secure” area. The official said “a few prisoners” were killed or wounded.
The ongoing violence has paralyzed the main international airport, destroying civilian planes and damaging at least one runway. Other airports also have been knocked out of operation.
The Arqin border crossing with Egypt was crowded with about 30 passenger buses holding at least 55 people each, said Suliman al-Kouni, an Egyptian dental student who fled northward from Khartoum with dozens of other Egyptian students.
“We traveled 15 hours on land at our own risk,” al-Kouni told The Associated Press by phone. “But many of our friends are still trapped in Sudan.”
Thick, black smoke filled the sky over Khartoum’s airport. The RSF claimed the armed forces unleashed airstrikes on the upscale neighborhood of Kafouri, north of Khartoum. There was no immediate army comment.
The country experienced a “near-total collapse” of internet connection and phone lines nationwide Sunday, according to NetBlocks, an internet monitoring service.
“It’s possible that infrastructure has been damaged or sabotaged,” said Netblocks director Alp Toker. “This will have a major effect on residents’ ability to stay safe and will impact the evacuation programs that are ongoing.”
After a week of bloody battles that hindered rescue efforts, U.S. special forces swiftly evacuated 70 U.S. Embassy staffers from Khartoum to an undisclosed location in Ethiopia early Sunday. Although American officials said it was too dangerous to carry out a government-coordinated evacuation of private citizens, other countries scrambled to evacuate citizens and diplomats.
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted that U.K. armed forces evacuated British diplomatic staff and their families “amid a significant escalation in violence and threats to embassy staff.” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said more than 1,200 military personnel were involved.
France, Greece and other European nations also organized an exodus. The Netherlands sent two Hercules C-130 planes and an Airbus A330 to Jordan to rescue 152 Dutch citizens who made their way from Sudan to an undisclosed evacuation point, but “not without risks,” said Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren.
Italy sent military jets to Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden to extract 140 Italian nationals from Sudan, many of whom took refuge in the embassy, said Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.
Overland travel through contested areas has proven dangerous. Khartoum is about 840 kilometers (520 miles) from Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
On Saturday, Saudi Arabia said it evacuated 157 people, including 91 Saudi nationals and citizens of other countries. Saudi state TV showed a large convoy of Saudis and other foreign nationals traveling by car and bus from Khartoum to Port Sudan, where a navy ship took them to the Saudi port of Jeddah.
The power struggle between the Sudanese military, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the RSF, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, has dealt a harsh blow to Sudan’s heady hopes for a democratic transition. The rival generals came to power after a pro-democracy uprising led to the ouster of the former strongman, al-Bashir. In 2021, they joined forces to seize power in a coup.
The current 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.
Both Burhan and Dagalo, each craving international legitimacy, have accused the other of obstructing the evacuations. The Sudanese military alleged the RSF had opened fire on a French convoy, wounding a French national. The RSF countered it came under attack by military aircraft as French citizens and diplomats left the embassy for Omdurman. It said the military’s strikes “endangered the lives of French nationals.”
The French Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the events for security reasons but said the evacuation was continuing as planned.
As violence rages, hospitals struggled to cope. Many of the wounded have been stranded by the fighting, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate that monitors casualties, suggesting the death toll is probably higher than what is publicly known.
The conflict has left millions sheltering in their homes from explosions, gunfire and looting without adequate electricity, food or water.
Thousands have fled Khartoum and other hotspots, according to U.N. agencies. Up to 20,000 people abandoned their homes in the western region of Darfur for neighboring Chad. War is not new to Darfur, where ethnically motivated violence has killed as many as 300,000 people since 2003. But Sudan is not used to such heavy fighting in its capital.
“The capital has become a ghost city,” said Atiya Abdalla Atiya, secretary of the Doctors’ Syndicate.
The fighting has caught many in the crossfire. Fighters attacked a U.S. Embassy convoy last week, and stormed the home of the European Union ambassador to Sudan. The recent violence wounded an Egyptian Embassy employee in Sudan, according to Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zaid.
Egypt urged citizens stranded in cities other than Khartoum to head to its consular offices in Port Sudan and Wadi Halfa in the north for evacuation, the state-run MENA news agency reported. Meanwhile, Egypt’s minister for emigration and expatriates urged Egyptian citizens in Khartoum to shelter in place until evacuation instructions are announced.
Khalid Omar, a spokesman for the pro-democracy bloc that seeks to restore civilian rule, urged the military and the RSF to return to talks to resolve their differences.
“There is an opportunity to stop this war and put the county on the right path,” he wrote on Facebook. “This is a war fueled by groups from the deposed regime who want it to continue.”
Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre in Jerusalem, Samy Magdy in Cairo, Michael Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, Angela Charlton in Paris, Frances D’Emilio in Rome and Fay Abuelgasim in Beirut contributed.
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