July 24, 2024

British PM holds emergency meeting on Sudan violence

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has held an emergency meeting to discuss assistance for the British nationals trapped in Sudan as fighting continues in the African country.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) confirmed that the morning meeting in the cabinet office saw Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Africa Minister Andrew Mitchell attend.

Government officials said they are “doing everything possible” to support those still inside the country’s capital, Khartoum.

It comes after the Sudanese army said it coordinated efforts to evacuate American, British, Chinese, and French citizens and diplomats from Sudan on military aircraft as bloody fighting entered its second week.

The FCDO has not confirmed the reports, but the PA news agency understands an evacuation is not imminent.

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The Sudanese army is battling a powerful rival paramilitary in and around Khartoum.

Prospects of airlifting people out of Sudan have been complicated by the fact most major airports in the country have become battlegrounds, and movement out of the capital has proven dangerous.

A UK government spokesman said, “We recognise that the situation is extremely concerning for British nationals trapped by the fighting in Sudan.

“We are doing everything possible to support British nationals and diplomatic staff in Khartoum, and the Ministry of Defence is working with the Foreign Office to prepare for several contingencies.”

Those held up in Sudan are advised to register with the FCDO and to stay indoors, with skirmishes taking place even in residential areas.

In the U.S., the Pentagon said earlier this week it was moving additional troops and equipment to a naval base in the tiny Gulf of Aden nation of Djibouti to prepare for the evacuation of U.S. embassy personnel.

But the White House said on Friday that it had no plans for a government co-ordinated evacuation of an estimated 16,000 American citizens trapped in Sudan.

Mr Sunak on Friday spoke with the president of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh.

While no mention of using the nation’s air bases was made in the readout from Downing Street, a No 10 spokesman said the two leaders agreed to “continue to coordinate efforts to de-escalate the violence and protect civilians, including our citizens.”

There are no signs of the trouble abating as yet.

Even as the warring sides said on Friday that they had agreed to a ceasefire for the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, explosions and gunfire rang out across Khartoum on Saturday.

Two ceasefire attempts earlier this week also rapidly collapsed.

Britain has historical ties to Sudan. In an unusual arrangement, Britain and Egypt jointly ruled Sudan from 1899 until it gained independence in 1956, but Sudan is not among the group of 56 Commonwealth nations.

Clashes between Sudan’s military and the country’s main paramilitary force have left at least 56 dead, while control of the presidential palace and the international airport in Khartoum is in doubt after disputed claims from both sides, in fighting that threatens to destabilise Sudan and the wider region.

What’s behind the fighting?

The clashes erupted amid an apparent power struggle between the two main factions of Sudan’s military regime.

The Sudanese armed forces are broadly loyal to Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the country’s de facto ruler, while the paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a collection of militia, follow the former warlord Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti.

The power struggle has its roots in the years before a 2019 uprising that ousted the dictatorial ruler Omar al-Bashir, who built up formidable security forces that he deliberately set against one another.

When an effort to transition to a democratic civilian-led government faltered after Bashir’s fall, an eventual showdown appeared inevitable, with diplomats in Khartoum warning in early 2022 that they feared such an outbreak of violence. In recent weeks, tensions have risen further.

(PA Media/dpa/NAN)

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