Sunak holds emergency meeting on Sudan violence amid reports of evacuation

The UK Government said it was ‘doing everything possible’ to support Britons trapped in the warring country.

Patrick Daly
Saturday 22 April 2023 16:28 BST
Smoke is seen in Khartoum (Marwan Ali/AP)
Smoke is seen in Khartoum (Marwan Ali/AP) (AP)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has held an emergency Cobra 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.

We recognise that the situation is extremely concerning for British nationals trapped by the fighting in Sudan

UK Government spokesman

It comes after the Sudanese army said it was co-ordinating 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 PA news agency understands an evacuation is not imminent.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it was planning for a wide range of scenarios, alongside the Foreign Office, on how it could assist in Sudan.

With reports suggesting the British Army is on standby to help with a potential evacuation, the MoD pointed out that a high-readied armed forces unit is always ready to be deployed should they be required.

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 a number of 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 US, 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 US 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 airbases was made in the readout from Downing Street, a No 10 spokesman said the two leaders agreed to “continue to co-ordinate 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 historic 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.

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