Details of the evacuation from the war-torn East African country still unknown
Canada has conducted its first two evacuation flights to get Canadians and other foreign nationals out of Sudan. And the federal government is promising more airlifts — depending on conditions on the ground — as its critics accuse it of moving too slowly.
At an event in Nova Scotia on Thursday, Defence Minister Anita Anand announced the first flight but offered few details. Senior officials at the Department of National Defence and Global Affairs Canada, speaking at a technical briefing later in the day in Ottawa, confirmed the second flight had left Khartoum.
The first evacuation flight had 45 people aboard; the second took 73 out of the war-torn country. Officials could not say how many of the evacuees on both flights were Canadian. But a confidential source told CBC News that seven Canadian citizens were on the first flight out of Sudan and 37 were on the second.
Both flights included people from Sudan, the U.S., Japan, the U.K. and Djibouti.
More flights are planned but federal officials have refused to discuss the timing.
Global Affairs Canada said Wednesday that up to 1,800 Canadians are stranded in Sudan and roughly 700 have asked the federal government for help to get out.
Officials said Thursday that after contacting virtually everyone on that list, they have narrowed down the potential number of evacuees because some have elected to stay. Approximately 108 people have said they definitely want to leave the country and another 130 are considering it.
Roughly 200 people on the federal government's evacuation list have made it out of the country so far, either on their own initiative or on allied military flights.
Anand said a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CC-130 Hercules aircraft conducted the operation. Federal officials said it's the only transport aircraft suited for the mission because the runway at the military airport 30 kilometres from Khartoum is getting "pretty chewed up" by the flights coming and going.
The evacuation flights are going to Djibouti. Global Affairs Canada is arranging to take people from there to Kenya, where they'll be responsible for their onward travel, officials said.
The federal government does make exceptions to that rule and offers loans to people who can't cover the cost of travel. Officials said Thursday that, so far, 30 such loans have been extended to 70 evacuees at a total cost of $170,000.
WATCH | Minister announces 1st Canadian evacuation flight out of Sudan
Minister announces 1st Canadian evacuation flight out of Sudan
Minister of National Defence Anita Anand confirms ‘first Canadian evacuation flight from Sudan has taken place' on RCAF C-130 Hercules aircraft.
"This is very good news, and I thank our Canadian Armed Forces personnel for their hard work to make this happen," Anand said.
The government announced Wednesday that it will deploy up to 200 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) troops to assist with the evacuation. That number does not include the air force and naval personnel who have been assigned to the evacuation effort, a senior defence official said Thursday.
Canadians and other foreign nationals have been caught in the crossfire of Sudan's civil conflict after violence broke out last week between the east African country's army and a paramilitary force.
The Reuters news agency reported late Thursday that Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have agreed to support a further 72-hour ceasefire. The ceasefire was due to expire at midnight. The Sudanese army agreed earlier to the extension of the shaky truce.
There were reports in U.K. media on Thursday that suggested Britain was prepared to keep up its evacuation effort regardless of whether a ceasefire is in place. Canadian officials were not prepared to make a similar commitment.
WATCH: Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly offers update on evacuation efforts
Joly provides update on evacuation efforts in Sudan
Foreign Minister Melanie Joly says 200 Canadians were safely evacuated from the country through flights and safe passage to neighbouring countries.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said much of her time on this file over the past day has been spent talking with her counterparts about convincing both sides in the Sudanese conflict to extend the ceasefire.
A growing chorus of critics is asking why it took the federal government until the end of the week to kick the evacuation into gear. Joly pushed back against that criticism, saying Canadian officials have been seized with the issue at a time of multiple international crises.
"There are many hot spots in the world, and there are many hot spots particularly in Africa." she said. "We've been at this since day one, working with other countries to find a place to do an airlift, to secure that place, to make sure that we would be working together …
"At the end of the day, I'm not into Monday morning quarterbacking. My job is to get Canadians outside of Sudan and we will make sure that that's the case."
A senior defence official, speaking on background at a technical briefing Thursday, said military and Global Affairs officials began meeting on Sudan 12 days ago. The military transport aircraft, a contingent of special forces soldiers and other troops have been on the ground in Djibouti supporting diplomats for a week.
WATCH | Millions of Sudanese have nowhere to flee:
Sudan ceasefire holds, allows warring sides to regroup
The ceasefire between the two warring sides in Sudan has managed to hold, allowing some to escape the conflict. But a humanitarian crisis on the ground is building and the warring sides are preparing to fight again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Senior reporter, defence and security
Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.
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