Canadian defence minister warns 'window for opportunity at airfield is closing'
Canadians stranded in Sudan will have another chance to leave on Saturday aboard at least one evacuation flight, as fighting continues across the country, Canada's Defence Minister Anita Anand said.
"The situation on the ground remains volatile, precarious and unpredictable," Anand said Saturday. "The window for opportunity at the airfield is closing" and the Canadian government is looking at other options for transport by sea and land, she said.
She reiterated that the Canadian military will continue evacuation flights "as long as conditions allow it."
Two Canadian rescue flights made it safely out of the Wadi Seidna Air Base just north of the capital Khartoum late Friday after two earlier airlifts to extract people from the war zone were cancelled. Anand said the successful airlifts carried 221 passengers, including 68 Canadians and six permanent residents of Canada.
Two flights on Thursday airlifted 117 people, including 42 Canadians, from Sudan. In total, 375 Canadians have left the country as of Friday "as the security situation in Sudan continues to worsen," she said.
Chaos in Sudan hinders Canadian evacuations
Signs of a ceasefire in Sudan are scarce as the two warring factions have returned to fighting that has temporarily derailed rescue attempts for Canadians still trapped in the country.
Foreign governments are rushing to evacuate their diplomats and other citizens to safety despite the latest ceasefire between warring factions in Sudan, broken on Saturday as part of a power struggle between the country's army and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The sounds of airstrikes, anti-aircraft weaponry and artillery could be heard in Khartoum early on Saturday and dark smoke rose over parts of the city, as fighting in Sudan entered a third week.
Fighting continued despite the announcement of a 72-hour ceasefire extension on Friday, when strikes by air, tanks and artillery rocked Khartoum and the adjacent cities of Bahri and Ombdurman.
The RSF said in a statement on Saturday it had shot down an army warplane in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, and accused the army of violating the ceasefire with an attack there. The army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Social media filling in gaps
Amid the confusion, some have turned to social media to help others flee Sudan.
Sara Elnaiem, of Milton, Ont., is one of several Sudanese Canadians who run a WhatsApp group that relays on-the-ground, real-time information to Canadians in Sudan.
She told CBC News that she joined the effort after seeking help with extricating her own family from Sudan. She was introduced to the group and said she stayed on to help fill in the information gap.
Sudanese diaspora rallying on WhatsApp to help those still in country
Sara Elnaiem, a Sudanese Canadian family physician in Milton, Ont., discusses the support networks that members of the global diaspora have used to help people still in Sudan escape the ongoing violence.
"I'm surprised of how little involvement there is from international governments and international NGOs to help people on the ground, that it has fallen on the shoulders of … the diaspora," Elnaiem says, adding she hopes the awareness raised by the group will lead to increased efforts from said institutions.
She says the group relays information about safe routes for travelling and flight schedules; details requirements needed to enter different countries, and connects people who need rides with those who can offer them.
"It's been quite challenging," Elnaiem says, noting the telecommunication issues in Sudan that can lead to radio silence from evacuees using the group for days. "You're just hoping for their safety. The moments of darkness where you're not getting any news or updates can be quite scary."
Maritime evacuation to Saudi port
Saudi state broadcaster Alekhbaiya said a passenger ship with 1,982 people on board from 17 countries would arrive at Jeddah port on Saturday, adding to 5,000 others who had already arrived.
Britain said its evacuations would end on Saturday as demand for spots on planes had declined.
The U.S. said several hundred Americans had departed Sudan by land, sea or air. A convoy of buses carrying 300 Americans left Khartoum late on Friday on a 850-kilometre trip to the Red Sea in the first U.S.-organized evacuation effort for citizens, the New York Times reported.
A reported 230 Indian citizens were safely flown out of the country to New Delhi on Saturday.
Iran's foreign ministry said on Saturday 65 Iranian citizens had left from Port Sudan, through Jeddah, to Iran.
Hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands have fled for their lives in the power struggle that erupted into violence on April 15, derailing an internationally backed transition toward democratic elections.
The fighting has also reawakened a two-decade-old conflict in the western Darfur region where scores have died this week.
In Darfur, at least 96 people had died since Monday in inter-communal violence rekindled by the army-RSF conflict, UN human rights office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said.
Residents pinned down by urban warfare
The army has been deploying jets or drones on RSF forces in neighbourhoods across the capital. Many residents are pinned down by urban warfare with scant food, fuel, water and power.
At least 528 people have been killed and 4,599 wounded, the health ministry said. The United Nations has reported a similar number of dead, but believes the real toll is much higher.
The violence has also sent tens of thousands of refugees across Sudan's borders and threatens to stir instability across a swath of Africa between the Sahel and the Red Sea.
WATCH | Breaking down how outside forces are fuelling Sudan conflict:
Breaking down the Sudan conflict and who’s fuelling the fight
Sudan’s capital has turned into a war zone as two rival factions battle for control, but other countries are also playing a role. McGill Associate Professor Khalid Medani and War Child Canada President Samantha Nutt break down how outside forces are also helping fuel the fight.
More than 75,000 people were internally displaced within Sudan just in the first week of the fighting, according to the United Nations. Only 16 per cent of hospitals were operating as normal in the capital.
The renewed truce, brokered by foreign powers, is supposed to last until Sunday at midnight.
The RSF accused the army of violating it with airstrikes on its bases in Omdurman, Khartoum's sister city at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers, and Mount Awliya.
The army blamed the RSF for violations.
Envoy sees sides more open to talks
The UN special representative in Sudan, Volker Perthes, told Reuters he had recently sensed a change in the two sides' attitudes and they were more open to negotiations, and were saying they would accept "some form of talks."
Perthes said the sides had nominated representatives for talks and suggested they could take place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, or Juba in South Sudan, though he said there was a practical question over whether they could get there to "actually sit together."
The immediate task, Perthes said, was to develop a monitoring mechanism for ceasefires.
"They have both accepted that this war cannot continue," he said.
With files from The Associated Press and Reuters
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