Sudan's RSF releases captured Egyptian soldiers

Egyptian officials and Sudan's military say the men, including 177 air force personnel, were flown home

Sudanese soldiers, loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, at a base seized from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan. AFP
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The paramilitary force that is fighting Sudan's army in Khartoum and across much of the country said it has released more than 200 Egyptian soldiers, including 177 air force personnel, captured in the north of the country last weekend.

Egyptian security officials said at least 50 troops were flown to Egypt in two batches, on board army transport planes.

The men, captured at a military base in the northern Sudanese town of Meroe, were taken to Khartoum earlier on Wednesday by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, RSF.

The Sudanese military said late on Wednesday that 177 Egyptian Air Force personnel were flown to Egypt on board four military aircraft, after they were released by the RSF.

The aircraft took off from the city of Dongola, in northern Sudan.

The Egyptian military did not announce the evacuation but said earlier on Wednesday that it was coordinating with authorities in Sudan to secure the return of the troops.

An RSF statement that had announced the troops' movement to Khartoum coincided with the emergence of footage purporting to show Sudanese soldiers celebrating the recapture from the RSF of the Meroe base.

Egypt has said its soldiers were in Sudan as part of a training mission under a military protocol signed with Sudan and denied that it was taking sides in the conflict.

Cairo had repeatedly called for the soldiers' repatriation, but the RSF maintained they would be returned to Egypt when circumstances permitted.

“We would like to assure the families and the government of Egypt that the soldiers who were at the Meroe base are all well and being taken care of,” said the RSF statement released after the men were flown home.

“They will be repatriated when the circumstances allow that and according to the conditions the country is going through.”

A video clip posted online last week showed RSF fighters forcing a group of Egyptian soldiers to crawl on their stomachs. An RSF soldier was seen hitting one of them and heard abusing them.

The clip triggered an outcry in Egypt, with social media users airing their anger and demanding retribution.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi's government forged close military ties with Sudan following the removal from power in 2019 of dictator Omar Al Bashir, whose 29-year rule saw relations between Cairo and Khartoum often fraught with tension.

Forces from the two neighbours frequently held joint war games.

Egypt has traditionally viewed its neighbour to the south as an extension of its national security sphere.

However, its latest endeavours to establish close relations with Khartoum were in part motivated by Cairo's wish to put pressure on Ethiopia, which is building a dam on the Nile that Egypt says threatens its vital share of the river's water.

Sudan's army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan has visited Egypt at least three times since Al Bashir's removal and was accorded a head-of-state reception, complete with a guard of honour.

In contrast, RSF commander Gen Mohamed Dagalo has visited once in the same time frame.

Mr El Sisi this week reviewed the conflict in Sudan with his top commanders, saying later in televised comments that Egypt was prepared to mediate and that his government was in contact with the warring sides.

Before they were sent home, Mr El Sisi described the captured Egyptian contingent as a “token” force deployed there for joint exercises.

“This must be clear to all of us as a nation that that contingent was not there to support one side against the other,” he said. “That talk is nonsense.”

Updated: April 20, 2023, 1:12 PM