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German plane airlifts 58 Canadians out of Sudan as Canadian plane readies for more

April 25, 2023  By Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Canada is welcoming the announcement of a new 72-hour ceasefire agreement in Sudan late Monday, though the chief of the defence staff warns the situation in the east African country makes any evacuation operation challenging.

“We have been consumed with this over the last 96 hours to ensure that Canadians are safe,” Gen. Wayne Eyre told the Senate defence committee Monday afternoon.

But he warned that infrastructure to carry out a non-combatant evacuation operation is limited.

“The main international airfield in Khartoum is closed, any other airhead in the locale of Khartoum is very limited,” Eyre said.


“Planning is ongoing. We’ve moved forces into the region, we’ve got more, as we speak, in the air.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand told the committee that Canada is working with allies on efforts to evacuate Canadian citizens.

“We have extracted our diplomats and we are working on additional options and contingency plans for Canadians more generally,” she said in an interview.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in a statement late Monday afternoon that a nationwide ceasefire will begin at midnight, “following intense negotiation over the past 48 hours.”

Blinken also said the U.S. will co-ordinate with other countries and Sudanese civilians to create a committee to oversee a permanent end to the fighting.

Anand welcomed the news, saying a pause in the fighting would be helpful.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provided only a limited update earlier on Monday.

“I just heard earlier today that a German plane lifted off from Khartoum with one German citizen on it and 58 Canadian citizens,” he said Monday afternoon.

“We have a C-17 in the region too, and we will be airlifting as well.”

Trudeau was speaking at a photo-op with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Ottawa, saying the recent airlift is an example of great co-operation between Canada and Germany.

Anand would not say whether Canadian Armed Forces are actually in Sudan, citing operational security.

Heavy gunfire and thundering explosions rocked Khartoum Monday in continued fighting between the country’s military and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces.

More than 420 people, including at least 273 civilians, have been killed and more than 3,700 wounded since the fighting began April 15, after power-sharing negotiations between the two sides rapidly deteriorated.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said on Monday that Canada was trying to contact all Canadians in Sudan who have registered with the government, and she repeated calls for anyone who hasn’t yet done so to get in touch immediately.

One Canadian in Khartoum, Waddaha Medani, said she was sent an email from the Canadian government at 2:45 a.m. local time Monday, telling her to “reserve a seat on an evacuation flight” being planned for as early as noon that day.

But because the country’s internet and phone services largely collapsed this weekend, she only got the email later that afternoon, and said she had not heard back directly as of Monday night from the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.

“We’re already frustrated, we already don’t know what’s happening and what’s going to happen. And the communication is basically poor,” she said in an interview.

The 29-year-old said she was left mulling whether to make a dangerous trip Tuesday morning to an airbase on the outskirts of the city, where her sister in Ottawa got wind of an apparent evacuation flight.

“It’s not safe at all. You’re literally taking the chance. You don’t know if you’re going to make it or not. That’s how it is,” Medani said.

“They keep saying there’s a ceasefire at the moment. However, they’re not really respecting it. We still hear gunshots.”

As of Monday, 1,473Canadians were formally registered in Sudan, but experts say they believe the number of Canadians in the country is likely much higher.

People in the country are facing a harrowing search for safety in the constantly shifting battle of explosions, gunfire and armed fighters looting shops and homes. Food and fuel are leaping in price and harder to find, and hospitals are near collapse.

Amid that chaos, a stream of European, Mideast, African and Asian military aircraft flew into Khartoum all day Sunday and Monday to extract foreign nationals who were moving past combatants at the city’s tense front lines.

France secured use of a military base on the outskirts of Khartoum to use as an extraction point for nearly 500 people of various nationalities who made their way there in their own vehicles or using private security firms.

Others drove hundreds of miles to the Port of Sudan on the country’s east coast, where boats can depart to cross the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia and where some nations are operating flights.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington has placed intelligence and reconnaissance assets along the overland evacuation route from the capital to the port to help protect convoys of evacuees. He said the U.S. does not have any troops on the ground.

Yet U.S. special operations forces carried out a precarious evacuation at the American Embassy in Khartoum on Sunday, sweeping in and out of the capital with helicopters on the ground for less than an hour. No shots were fired and no major casualties were reported.

Global Affairs Canada confirmed that U.S. special forces evacuated six Canadians who were either diplomats or their dependents, alongside dozens of other diplomats from various countries.

“Canada extends its gratitude to the United States for its support,” the department said Monday.

Canada suspended consular services in the country Sunday, but evacuated diplomats are working out of Djibouti to provide advice to Canadians stuck in the country, such as where they can find essentials like fuel and medicines.

They are also helping Canadians who have found their own ways to leave.

As of August 2022, the Khartoum embassy had six Canadian staff and 12 who were locally hired, according to data filed by the department with a Senate committee.

Ottawa is not evacuating its locally hired Sudanese staff, and says it is looking at all possible options to support them.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced Monday that his department will allow Sudanese citizens in Canada to move between temporary immigration streams so they can continue studying, working or visiting family.

“These measures would help ensure the continued safety of the Sudanese population already in Canada, keep families together and give them a safe place to stay,” a news release reads.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will also facilitate immigration applications for Sudanese citizens in Sudan once it’s safe to travel. That means prioritizing applications for temporary and permanent residence that are already in the system, such as family reunification applications and visitor visas.

The department will also waive fees for passports and permanent resident travel documents for those in Sudan who are eligible for those documents and wish to leave.

For many Sudanese people, the ongoing airlift of foreigners is a terrifying sign that international powers, after failing repeatedly to broker ceasefires, only expect a worsening of the fighting that has already pushed the population into disaster.

The military has appeared to have the upper hand in fighting in Khartoum, but the Rapid Support Forces still controls many districts in the capital and the neighbouring city of Omdurman, and has several large strongholds around the country. With the military vowing to fight until the group is crushed, many fear a dramatic escalation.

An earlier ceasefire, which was due to run out Monday evening, brought almost no reduction in fighting.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a “catastrophic conflagration” that could engulf the whole region. He urged the 15 members of the Security Council to “exert maximum leverage” on both sides in order to “pull Sudan back from the edge of the abyss.”

Joly has spoken with her counterparts in both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates about the need for peace. Cairo has strong links with the Sudanese Armed Forces, and the Emirates have ties to the RSF.

With files from The Associated Press, Jordan Omstead in Toronto and Sarah Ritchie in Ottawa.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2021


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