KHARTOUM, Sudan — 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 border 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.
Over 420 people, including 264 civilians, have been killed and over 3,700 wounded in the fighting between the Sudanese armed forces and the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF.
The RSF said the armed forces unleashed airstrikes on the upscale neighborhood of Kafouri, north of Khartoum. There was no immediate army comment.
The ongoing violence has paralyzed the main international airport, destroying civilian planes and damaging at least one runway, and thick, black smoke rose above it. Other airports also have been knocked out of operation.
European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted he had spoken with the rival commanders, urging an immediate cease-fire to protect civilians and ensure the safe evacuation of EU citizens.
In other fighting, a senior military official said army and police repelled an RSF attack on Kober Prison in Khartoum where Sudan’s longtime ruler, Omar al-Bashir, and former officials in his movement have been held 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 in a “highly secure” area, and “a few prisoners” were killed or wounded.
The RSF claimed later that the military removed al-Bashir and other prisoners from the facility, although the statement could not be independently confirmed.
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.”
Sudan experienced a “near-total collapse” of internet and phone connections nationwide Sunday, according to the monitoring service NetBlocks.
“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 rescues, U.S. special forces swiftly evacuated 70 U.S. Embassy staffers from Khartoum to Ethiopia early Sunday. Although American officials said it was too dangerous for a government-coordinated evacuation of private citizens, other countries scrambled to remove 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.” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said over 1,200 military personnel were involved.
France, Greece, Jordan and other nations also organized flights. The Netherlands sent two Hercules C-130 planes and an Airbus A330 to Jordan for 152 Dutch citizens who made their way out of Sudan, but “not without risks,” said Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren. Italy, seeking to extract 140 of its nationals, sent military jets to Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden, said 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 cars and buses traveling 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 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, the generals 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 generals, each craving international legitimacy, have accused the other of obstructing the evacuations. The Sudanese military alleged the RSF opened fire on a French convoy, wounding a French national. The RSF countered it came under attack by warplanes as French citizens and diplomats left the embassy for Omdurman, saying the military’s strikes “endangered the lives of French nationals.”
French President Emmanuel Macron and his foreign minister were given security guarantees by both sides for the evacuation, according to Defense and Foreign Ministry officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk publicly. The officials said a military flight carrying about 100 people left Khartoum for Djibouti, with another planned.
Hospitals have struggled as violence rages. Many wounded are stranded by the fighting, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate that monitors casualties, suggesting the death toll is probably higher than what is known.
The Italian medical group Emergency said 46 of its staff refused to leave, working in hospitals in Khartoum, Nyala and Port Sudan.
Thousands of Sudanese have fled Khartoum and other hot spots, according to U.N. agencies, but millions are sheltering in their homes from explosions, gunfire and looting without adequate electricity, food or water.
In the western region of Darfur, up to 20,000 people left 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, which “has become a ghost city,” said Atiya Abdalla Atiya, secretary of the Doctors’ Syndicate.
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, which said it had over 10,000 citizens in Sudan, urged those in cities other than Khartoum to head to consular offices in Port Sudan and Wadi Halfa in the north for evacuation, the state-run MENA news agency reported.
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.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Washington did not have a “deep relationship” with either side in the conflict because Sudan was under “the brutal dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir” for 30 years.
“These two warring factions have started what may well be a fight to the finish,” Coons told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”