UK to stop evacuation flights from Sudan on Saturday
With violence escalating, the deadline for British nationals to reach the evacuation airfield in Sudan has passed as the Government prepares to cease flights out of the war-torn region within hours. Meanwhile gunfire and heavy artillery fire persisted Saturday in parts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum, residents said, despite the extension of a cease-fire between the country’s two top generals, whose battle for power has killed hundreds and sent thousands fleeing for their lives. Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden is chairing a Cobra meeting afternoon to discuss the security situation in Khartoum in advance of the final flight taking off at 6pm UK time.
Some 1,573 people on 13 flights have been evacuated from the Wadi Saeedna site near the capital but thousands more British citizens may remain.
The BBC has claimed all NHS doctors are now eligible to catch flights out of the country following a U-turn by the Government, which initially said evacuation was only open to UK passport holders and their immediate families.
It comes amid criticism of the pace of the British evacuation, which was given more time after a three-day extension to the ceasefire between warring generals was agreed on Thursday.
Mr Dowden denied the Government will effectively “abandon” those who have been unable to make the potentially dangerous journey to the airfield with its decision to cease flights.
The Government was also facing renewed pressure to broaden the eligibility criteria for evacuation after it cited a decline in the number of UK passport holders coming forward as its reason for ending its rescue operation.
Concerns have been raised that the current approach could see families split up or some members left behind, with Labour calling on ministers to use the longer window to rescue others.
After the decision to end evacuation flights on Saturday, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy urged the Government not to “turn away” British residents without passports, including NHS doctors reportedly trapped in the conflict zone.
Mr Dowden told the BBC: “We are in touch with and engaging rapidly with the Sudanese Doctors’ Association to see what further support we can provide for them.”
Sudan’s army is understood to have bee deploying jets or drones on paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) troops in neighbourhoods across Khartoum, effectively trapping residents who have little power, fuel, water or food.
The civilian death toll jumped to 411 people today, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, which monitors casualties. The fighting has wounded another 2,023 civilians so far, the group added.
In the city of Genena, the provincial capital of war-ravaged West Darfur, intensified violence has killed 89 people. Fighters have moved into homes and taken over stores and hospitals as they battle in the streets, the syndicate said.
Khartoum, which is home to five million people, has been transformed into a front line for the conflict between General Abdel Fattah Burhan, commander of Sudan’s military, and RSF leader General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo.
Foreign countries including the UK continued to evacuate diplomatic staff and nationals while thousands of Sudanese fled across borders into Chad and Egypt.
As many as 20,000 refugees, mostly women and children, have crossed into neighbouring Chad, the United Nations said, a country which has itself struggled for stability in the aftermath of a coup two years ago.
The overland journey to Port Sudan, where ships are evacuating people via the Red Sea, and where the UK Government has now opened up an office at the Coral Hotel, has proven long and risky.
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Hatim el-Madani, a former journalist, said that paramilitary fighters were stopping refugees at roadblocks out of the capital, demanding phones and valuables.
He said: “There’s an outlaw, bandit-like nature to the RSF militia. It indicates they don’t have a supply line in place and that could get worse in the coming days.”
Airlifts have also posed challenges, with one Turkish evacuation plane hit by gunfire outside Khartoum on Friday.
UN relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said offices in Khartoum, as well as the cities of Genena and Nyala in Darfur had all been attacked and looted.
He added: “This is unacceptable – and prohibited under international law.”
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