KHARTOUM—Sudan’s army said on Saturday it was helping to evacuate foreign nationals from the country after a week of strife that has killed hundreds of civilians, even as its forces battled paramilitary rivals in Khartoum, including with air strikes.
The statement citing army chief Abdel Fatteh al-Burhan came after promises by rival Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, to open airports for evacuations.
The two sides have so far failed to observe ceasefires agreed almost daily since hostilities broke out on April 15, including a three-day truce to allow citizens to reach safety and visit family during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
Any let-up in fighting on Saturday could accelerate a desperate rush by many Khartoum residents to flee after spending days trapped in their homes or local districts under bombardment and with fighters roaming the streets.
With the airport closed and skies unsafe, thousands of foreigners—including embassy staff, aid workers, and students in Khartoum and elsewhere in Africa’s third-largest country—have also been unable to get out.
However, the army said several countries would evacuate diplomats and other nationals “in the coming hours,” with Saudi Arabians and Jordanians leaving via Port Sudan, 650 kilometers (400 miles) from Khartoum.
Burhan said the army was providing safe pathways for evacuations but that some airports including in Khartoum and Darfur’s largest city Nyala were still problematic.
In the first report of a successful evacuation, Kuwait’s foreign ministry said that after an “emergency operation” of Kuwaiti citizens wishing to leave Sudan, they arrived safely in the city of Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. embassy in Khartoum said it had received “incomplete information” about large convoys leaving the capital for Port Sudan, adding that the embassy was unable to assist such convoys and that travel was at individuals’ own risk.
Residents of Khartoum and the adjoining sister cities of Omdurman and Bahri said fighting intensified on Saturday morning, with air strikes near the state broadcaster and gun battles in several areas including near the army headquarters.
Live television feeds showed a huge cloud of black smoke rising from Khartoum airport and the sound of shooting and artillery booms.
“These horrible planes are back. I never want to hear another airplane again,” said a Khartoum resident, referring to the fighter jets aiming strikes at rebel positions.
RSF chief Hemedti said earlier that he had spoken with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres on the need to adhere to a complete ceasefire with protection for humanitarian and medical workers.
The RSF said it was ready to partially open all airports to allow evacuations. However, the status of Sudan’s airports is unclear. Khartoum Airport said on Twitter that Sudan’s airspace would stay closed to traffic.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, appealed for safe passage to supply hospitals and allow medical staff to work freely.
“We need a space where we can supply different locations … we need ports of entry where we can bring specialist trauma staff and medical supplies,” said Sudan operations manager Abdalla Hussein.
Outside Khartoum, the reports of the worst violence have come from Darfur, a western desert region that borders Chad and that suffered warfare from 2003 that has killed as many as 300,000 people and displaced 2.7 million, dragging on after successive peace deals.
A U.N. humanitarian update on Saturday said looters had taken at least 10 World Food Programme vehicles and six other food trucks after overrunning the agency’s offices and warehouses in Nyala, in south Darfur.
Sudan’s sudden collapse into warfare a week ago dashed plans to restore civilian rule, brought an already impoverished country to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe, and threatened a wider conflict that could draw in outside powers.
Sudan borders seven countries including Africa’s volatile Sahel region. The hostilities risk fanning regional tensions, and Burhan said he had spoken to eastern Libyan military leader Khalifa Haftar after reports Haftar had supplied the RSF.
He said, in television comments, that he was also in touch with the leaders of two of Sudan’s other neighbors, Chad and Ethiopia.
There has been no sign yet that either side in the deadly power struggle between the army and the paramilitary RSF can secure a quick victory or is ready to back down and talk.
The army has air power but the RSF is widely embedded in urban areas including around key facilities in central Khartoum.
However, Burhan said on Saturday that “we all need to sit as Sudanese and find the right way out to return hope and life,” his most conciliatory comments since the fighting began.
After a 2021 coup, Burhan and Hemedti had held the top two positions on a ruling council that was meant to hand over to civilian rule and merge the RSF into the army.
The World Health Organization reported on Friday that 413 people had been killed and 3,551 injured since fighting broke out. The death toll includes at least five aid workers in a country reliant on food aid.
In Omdurman, there were fears over the fate of detainees in al-Huda prison, the largest in Sudan.
The army on Friday accused the RSF of raiding the prison, which the paramilitary force denied. Lawyers for a prisoner there said an armed group had forcibly evacuated the prison, with the detainees’ whereabouts unknown.
The Sudanese doctors union said early on Saturday that more than two-thirds of hospitals in conflict areas were out of service, with 32 forcibly evacuated by soldiers or caught in crossfire.