Sudan's warring sides squabble over evacuations in bid to win international goodwill

Army and RSF have been keen to show they are helping foreign citizens and diplomats leave Sudan

A convoy leaving Khartoum advances on a road towards Port Sudan as people flee the Sudanese capital.  AFP
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Eager to secure international goodwill, Sudan's warring rivals appear keen to portray themselves as facilitators and protectors of the ongoing evacuation of foreign diplomats and citizens trapped in Khartoum, after more than a week of deadly street battles in the Sudanese capital.

The pitched battles that broke out in the capital and other parts of Sudan on April 15 have caused worldwide concern about the fate of the impoverished and crisis-hit country of 44 million, as well as the safety of foreigners stranded there.

In their pursuit of recognition, the two sides — the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces — have blamed each other for incidents that they say have hampered the evacuation operations. They have also underlined their readiness to offer more help with the evacuations.

While all efforts to broker a truce have failed, the first sign of possible progress towards evacuations came late on Friday when the RSF said it would allow flights to leave airports. An army statement followed the next day, announcing that the US, Britain, France and China were sending military aircraft to pick up their citizens.

Saudis and other civilians leave Sudan on ships to Jeddah

Saudis and other civilians leave Sudan on ships to Jeddah

Saudi Arabia confirmed carrying out the first successful evacuation effort on Saturday, followed by a string of other countries including the US, France and Britain, even as fighting continued despite a tree-day truce for the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Fitr.

At the same time, the army and RSF have accused each other of committing acts that have put the lives of foreigners at risk.

On Sunday, the army accused the RSF of stealing the car of the Malaysian ambassador while he was out shopping, and of attacking a motorcade carrying Qatari embassy personnel and stealing their money, suitcases and mobile phones.

It also claimed that the paramilitary fired at a French embassy convoy, injuring a French citizen, and separately attacked the embassy compound in Khartoum's Burri district.

“The armed forces strongly condemns this barbaric behaviour and resorting to violence which is typical of the Rapid Support militia before and after its mutiny,” it said.

Clashes continue in Sudan's capital, cutting residents' basic supplies

Clashes continue in Sudan's capital, cutting residents' basic supplies

The RSF issued a statement accusing the army of attacking the French convoy from the air, and said it shot down the aircraft involved. It also reported an injury among the French citizens.

“This flagrant violation of international and humanitarian laws as well as the declared truce was witnessed and documented by members of the French embassy,” the RSF said.

The paramilitary group said it remained “committed to a full adherence to the declared truce and securing humanitarian corridors to enable citizens to have access to basic services and facilitate the movement of foreigners to the evacuation gathering points decided by their governments.”

The statements from both sides regarding the evacuations reflect their desire for legitimacy in the eyes of western and regional powers frustrated by the latest setback their rivalry has created for Sudan's transition towards democratic rule and the humanitarian crisis it has created.

They also underline Sudan's long-running reliance on foreign aid that stems in large part from the numerous civil wars that have plagued the country since independence in 1956. These wars have displaced millions, many of whom now live in camps where they are entirely dependent on relief handouts. Sudan has for decades been one of the world's main standing relief operations.

Sudan's reliance on the international community was illustrated most recently in the response to a 2021 military coup by the leaders of the army and the RSF — army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan and Gen Mohamed Dagalo, respectively — that derailed an internationally-backed transition to democracy.

Major economic backers led by the US and the World Bank suspended billions of dollars' worth of debt forgiveness and aid, pushing the country into its worst economic crisis in living memory and closer to the international isolation it suffered for most of the 29-year rule of dictator Omar Al Bashir. He was overthrown in 2019 amid a popular uprising.

Updated: April 23, 2023, 9:16 PM