Canada has military forces on the ground in Port Sudan to assist Canadians, says foreign affairs minister
Sudan's warring military factions agreed in principle on Tuesday to a seven-day ceasefire, South Sudan announced, as more airstrikes and gunfire in the Khartoum region disrupted the latest short-term truce.
A statement released by the Foreign Ministry of South Sudan, which had offered to mediate in the conflict, said its President Salva Kiir stressed the importance of a longer truce and of naming envoys to peace talks, to which both sides had agreed.
The credibility of the reported ceasefire — set for May 4-11 — between Sudanese army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo was unclear, given the rampant violations that undermined previous agreements, running from 24 to 72 hours.
Earlier on Tuesday, people fleeing the fighting between the rival generals in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum flooded an already-overwhelmed city on the Red Sea and Sudan's northern borders with Egypt.
Many exhausted Sudanese and foreigners arrived in Port Sudan, the country's main seaport, joining thousands who have waited for days to be evacuated out of the chaos-stricken nation. Others have crowded into packed buses and trucks, seeking shelter in Egypt, Sudan's northern neighbour.
Port Sudan has also become a hub for foreign governments to evacuate their citizens by air and sea.
Hundreds of Canadians
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly confirmed Tuesday that Canadian soldiers are in Port Sudan, assisting any Canadians who make it to the city escape by ship.
"We have armed forces in Port Sudan as we speak," Joly told CBC News during an interview in Nairobi, Kenya. "Our goal is to make sure we can offer options to Canadians."
More than 200 Canadian citizens who asked for assistance getting out of Sudan did not make it out before an airlift ended over the weekend.
Canadian Armed Forces on the ground in Port Sudan
"Much of the capital has become empty," said Abdalla al-Fatih, a Khartoum resident. "All [residents of] our street fled the war."
The fighting, now in its third week, has turned Khartoum and its neighbouring city of Omdurman into a battlefield. Fierce clashes are taking place inside residential neighbourhoods that have become "ghost areas," residents say. Explosions and gunfire echoed Tuesday in Khartoum.
The conflict, which capped months of worsening tensions, pits the military, led by al-Burhan, against the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), commanded by Dagalo, who is widely known as Hemedti.
Trapped in their home
Al-Fatih's family managed to get out of Khartoum over the weekend after they spent the past two weeks trapped in their home in the neighborhood of Kafouri, a major flashpoint since the fighting broke out on April 15.
They arrived in Port Sudan late Monday, after an exhausting 20-hour trip, he said. There, they found thousands, including many women and children, camping outside the port area. Many had been there for more than a week, with no food and other services, he said.
At the congested crossing points with Egypt, thousands of families have waited for days inside buses or sought temporary shelter in the border city of Wadi Halfa to finalize their paperwork to be allowed into Egypt.
Yusuf Abdel-Rahman is a Sudanese university student who crossed into Egypt, along with his family, through the Ashkit crossing point late Monday. They spent the night at a community hostel in Egypt's southern city of Aswan and plan to board a train to Cairo later Tuesday, he said.
Abdel-Rahman's family went first to the Arqin crossing point over the weekend. It was overcrowded and they couldn't reach the customs area, he said. They then decided to move to the Ashkit crossing after they heard from people there that the crossing would be easier.
"It's a chaotic situation [in Arqin]," he said over the phone. "Women, children and patients are stranded in the desert with no food, no water."
Abdel-Rahman reported widespread destruction and looting. He said a neighbour told them by phone that armed men in RSF uniforms stormed their home in Khartoum's Amarat neighbourhood on Friday, a day after they fled the capital. Many Sudanese have taken to social media to complain that their homes were stormed and looted by armed men.
He said the family felt lucky it left before the home was stormed. "We could [have] ended up dead bodies."
The fighting has displaced at least 334,000 people inside Sudan, and sent tens of thousands more to neighbouring countries, including Egypt, Chad, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Ethiopia, according to UN agencies.
"Now we're seeing some extremely fast-moving situations along the borders," Paul Dillon, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, told a news briefing Tuesday in Geneva.
At the Sudanese borders with Ethiopia, between 900 and 1,000 arrive daily, he said, where "there's a desperate lack of wash services, food, shelter, water, medical assistance."
At least 20,000 people crossed into Chad, which borders the Darfur city of Genena, where clashes last week killed dozens and wounded hundreds.
Aleksandra Roulet-Cimpric, Chad country director with the International Rescue Committee, described dire conditions for the arrivals, mainly women and children, many of whom have taken shelter under trees in an "extremely hot" weather.
"This leaves them particularly at risk of exploitation and abuse," she warned.
With files from David Common and Reuters
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