About 50 Irish citizens have been evacuated from Sudan so far, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has said.
More than a week ago fighting broke out in the northeast African country between Sudan’s army and a paramilitary group, following months of growing tensions.
On one side of the conflict is Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, president of Sudan’s military government and head of the army. On the other is Lt Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti. He is Sudan’s vice-president and oversees one the region’s biggest militia groups, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Irish citizens were evacuated on flights on Sunday, organised by French and Spanish authorities, as efforts to evacuate diplomats and their dependents from Khartoum intensified over the weekend.
“I’ve heard that about 50 Irish citizens were evacuated since yesterday from Khartoum to Djibouti with the support of France and Spain,” Mr Martin said.
The Fianna Fáil leader said there were “150 plus” Irish citizens who had registered as being in Sudan with the nearest Irish embassy in Nairobi.
“The situation is fluid, but 50 have been evacuated so far and more to come. A consular team from Foreign Affairs have been on the ground in Djibouti since yesterday,” he said. “Obviously this has to be done safely and we have to protect all of our citizens,” he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
Mr Martin said the “majority” of the cohort had been evacuated by France, with other Irish citizens escaping the country in a Spanish operation that saw around 100 people evacuated from the capital Khartoum on Sunday.
He advised Irish citizens who are still in Sudan to watch for updates from the Irish embassy account in neighbouring Kenya on Twitter and to stay indoors and stay safe until further advised by the Irish team on the ground.
A team of Irish special forces soldiers and diplomats has been sent to Sudan to assist Irish people in leaving the country in response to the worsening violence there.
Up to 12 members of the Army Ranger Wing, the Defence Forces special operations unit have been sent to accompany a small number of officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The Tánaiste said members of the team were on the ground in Djibouti, a nearby country in the Horn of Africa, where evacuated citizens would be provided accommodation and assistance to travel back to Ireland.
“This will take some days. I think we were pleased with the initial outcome in the last 24 hours. But it is something that’s very, very fluid and bearing in mind that the conflict is a ferocious one,” he said.
Mr Martin said the first of up to 12 Irish Army Ranger Wing troops would be arriving in Djibouti, having left Ireland on Sunday.
“They will be based initially in Djibouti, and we will work with European Union colleagues in respect of what’s the optimal deployment and what’s the best way to deal with this,” he said.
“This [the conflict] erupted in terms of its severity fairly relatively quickly for many of the citizens, and many of them are caught unawares in respect of the sudden eruption of very severe and terrible violence in Khartoum between two forces,” he said.
Responding to criticism Ireland had to rely on help from other countries to evacuate citizens, as the Defence Forces did not have any heavy airlift capability, Mr Martin said: “we will always work with our European Union colleagues.”
However, he said the “more immediate” benefits of having planes capable of strategic airlift capacity would be Defence Forces teams would be able to get on the ground “as quickly as possible” in crisis situations.
With a series of ceasefires failing to hold, the death toll has now passed 420, including 264 civilians, and more than 3,700 have been wounded, according to local and international NGOs.
However, most analysts believe the true total of fatalities and injuries in more than nine days of fighting is much higher amid battles in the centre of the Sudanese capital and in its twin city of Omdurman.
The US evacuated diplomats, embassy workers and families from Khartoum on Saturday night, sending Chinook helicopters carrying special forces on Saturday night to evacuate about 70 Americans from a landing zone at the embassy to a location in Ethiopia.
On Sunday the UK successfully evacuated its diplomatic staff and dependents from Khartoum in what officials called “very challenging circumstances”, which involved more than 1,200 military personnel.
Spain and Canada also evacuated their citizens. Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said that his country’s operations in Sudan had been temporarily suspended. “Our diplomats are safe – they have been extracted and are working from outside the country,” he tweeted.
The Greek foreign minister said the country had dispatched aircraft and special forces to its ally Egypt in preparation for an evacuation of 120 Greek and Cypriot nationals from Khartoum.
The Netherlands sent two air force Hercules C-130 planes and an Airbus A330 to Jordan in advance of a possible rescue mission.
Italy has dispatched military jets to the Gulf of Aden state of Djibouti to prepare for the evacuation of 140 Italian nationals in Sudan, many of whom have already taken refuge in the embassy.
The UN is also struggling to extract hundreds of international staff, warning that evacuation by land may be the only option.
One UN worker said some UN staff have already left, travelling from Khartoum to Port Sudan or from the southwestern region of Darfur into neighbouring Chad.
One big challenge is fighting over Khartoum’s airport, which has sustained significant damage since the conflict broke out last weekend, and it is unclear if the airport is usable.
A new declared truce that was to coincide with the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr collapsed on Saturday. – Guardian