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Sudanese Army Chief: Evacuation of US, Other Foreign Nationals to Begin 'In Coming Hours'

Smoke is seen in Khartoum, Sudan, Saturday, April 22, 2023. The fighting in the capital between the Sudanese Army and Rapid Support Forces resumed after an internationally brokered cease-fire failed.
Smoke is seen in Khartoum, Sudan, Saturday, April 22, 2023. The fighting in the capital between the Sudanese Army and Rapid Support Forces resumed after an internationally brokered cease-fire failed.

As fighting between two clashing military factions continued Saturday, Sudan's army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said in a statement that his troops would facilitate the evacuation of diplomats and citizens from Britain, China, France and the United States, "in the coming hours."

With fighting reported around the Khartoum International Airport, though, it is still unclear how any major evacuation could unfold. The area around the airport has seen some of the most intense gun battles and shelling over the past week.

A State Department spokesperson could not firm reports an evacuation of U.S. government personnel is imminent. A State Department spokesperson told VOA early Saturday Washington time, "We continue to remain in close contact with our embassy in Khartoum and have full accountability of our personnel. For their safety, I cannot discuss the details of their movements or whereabouts."

The U.S. Embassy in Sudan said in a security alert Saturday that "due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and closure of the airport, it is not currently safe to undertake a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of private U.S. citizens." The embassy also said, "There is incomplete information about significant convoys departing Khartoum traveling toward Port Sudan. The embassy is unable to assist convoys. Traveling in any convoy is at your own risk."

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak chaired an emergency response committee meeting Saturday regarding the situation in Sudan.

VOA reached out to the United Nations to see if there are plans to evacuate any of their 800 international staff. A spokesperson said, "We are exploring all options. Nothing to confirm as of now."

Sudan's military said army chief General Burhan had spoken to leaders of various countries requesting safe evacuations of their citizens and diplomats from Sudan, which has seen bloody clashes over the past week that have left more than 400 people dead.

Burhan said that diplomats from Saudi Arabia already had been evacuated from Port Sudan and airlifted back to the kingdom. He said that Jordan's diplomats would soon be evacuated in the same way. Saudi State TV reported the first evacuation vessel from Sudan arrived Saturday in the port city of Jeddah, carrying 50 Saudi citizens and nationals from friendly countries. Egypt also has evacuated some of its personnel, while Japan is preparing to evacuate.

The State Department has said there are some 70 U.S. Embassy staff members in Khartoum, and it has been working to gather them in one location. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel had a warning Friday for non-government U.S. citizens in Sudan.

"We have advised Americans to not travel to Sudan since August 2021, and the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum's security alert on April 16 stated that due to the uncertain security situations in Khartoum and closure of the airport, Americans should have no expectation of a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation at this time," Patel said. "It is imperative that U.S. citizens in Sudan make their own arrangements to stay safe in these difficult circumstances."

Patel said U.S. authorities were in touch with several hundred U.S. citizens understood to be in Sudan. The State Department confirmed the death of one U.S. citizen in the country. The person was not a U.S. government employee.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been working the phones in the crisis, reaching out repeatedly to both General Burhan, the commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces, SAF, and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the commander of the rival Rapid Support Forces, RSF, known as Hemedti.

Blinken called on both generals to uphold the nationwide cease-fire through at least the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr on Sunday, April 23. Blinken also participated in a special ministerial session Thursday under the leadership of African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki, with all participating leaders unanimous on the urgent need for a cease-fire.

The two generals are former allies who seized power in a 2021 coup but later fell out in a bitter power struggle.

The sudden fighting that broke out one week ago has brought the city of 5 million people to the brink of collapse, with residents hunkering down inside their homes with no electricity amid bombardment, and with marauding fighters roaming the streets, looting homes.

Sudan borders seven countries and sits between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Africa's volatile Sahel region. The violence broke out as an internationally backed transition plan to form a new civilian government was scheduled to take effect, four years after the fall of Omar-al-Bashir. Both the government and the paramilitary forces accuse each other of thwarting the transition.

The U.S. has some military forces stationed in the neighboring country of Djibouti, which experts say would likely be used for any evacuation operation. Experts say the Biden administration does not want a repeat of the hasty U.S. departure from Afghanistan.

Cameron Hudson, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA that "I think we can't sell short the comparison to Afghanistan, especially if we're contemplating the visuals of Americans leaving a besieged city, when civilians are begging for their own lives, begging to be evacuated along with Americans and international staff. I think that's a terrible optic for the United States to be sending in Africa right now."

VOA United Nations Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this story.