(Khartoum) Evacuations of foreign civilians in Sudan began on Saturday as deadly fighting between the regular army and paramilitaries continued, entering its second week after a brief lull.

While the night was relatively calm in Khartoum, largely deprived of electricity and running water, strong explosions shook the capital during the day and exchanges of fire were heard in different neighborhoods, according to testimonies reported to the AFP.

The first major operation to evacuate civilians since the start of the fighting was announced on Saturday by Saudi Arabia, which repatriated its citizens and nationals of other countries.

“Fifty Saudi citizens and other nationals evacuated from Sudan” have arrived in Jeddah, a port city on the Red Sea, Saudi state broadcaster Al-Ekhbariyah reported. Earlier, the Sudanese military had reported the departure of “Saudi diplomats by land to Port Sudan”.

Another 108 people from 11 countries are expected to arrive later today on four other ships due to dock in Jeddah, the Saudi channel added.

For its part, the Sudanese army announced that “the United States, the United Kingdom, France and China will evacuate their diplomats and their nationals with their military planes”.

For several days, the United States, South Korea and Japan have deployed forces in neighboring countries, and the European Union is considering taking similar measures to evacuate their diplomats and nationals from Sudan.

Violence erupted there on April 15 between the army of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane, Sudan’s de facto ruler since the 2021 putsch, and his deputy turned rival, General Mohamed Hamdane Daglo, who commands the Rapid Support Forces. (FSR), feared paramilitaries.

On Friday, the military announced it had “agreed to a three-day ceasefire” for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Muslim fasting. Previously, the UN, the United States and other countries had called for an end to the fighting.

But again, the army and the FSR and the army have not respected their commitments to pause to allow civilians to flee and foreign countries to repatriate their nationals. The still very provisional toll stands at 413 dead and 3,551 injured, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

General Daglo’s FSR said they were “ready to open all airports in Sudan” to evacuate foreigners. General Burhane told him on Saturday that the regular army “controlled all the airports except those in Khartoum and Nyala”, the capital of South Darfur.

While the two sides are also engaged in a communication battle, it is impossible to know who controls the country’s airports and what state they are in after being the scene of heavy fighting since the first day of the conflict.

The two generals who took power in the 2021 coup are now engaged in a merciless struggle. They were unable to agree on the integration of General Daglo’s paramilitaries into General Burhane’s regular troops, after weeks of political negotiations under international auspices.

In Khartoum, a city of five million people, many civilians have ventured outside just to get emergency food or to flee the city. The end of the fasting month of Ramadan is usually celebrated ‘with pastries and gifts for the children’, but this year it’s ‘gunshots and the smell of death’, laments AFP Sami al-Nour, a resident of Khartoum.

Living conditions are probably worse in Darfur, where no one can go immediately. On site, a doctor from Médecins sans frontières (MSF) evokes a “catastrophic situation”.

In Sudan, Africa’s third-largest gold producer yet one of the world’s poorest countries, health services have been on their knees for decades and a third of the 45 million people go hungry.

The cessation of operations by most humanitarian workers, after the death of at least four of them over the past week, will worsen the situation. And the conflict now threatens to gain ground beyond Sudan’s borders, experts say.

Now that the guns have spoken, action must be taken quickly to avoid a “full-fledged civil war”, warns the International Crisis Group (IGC).