Sudan's warring generals pledged Tuesday to observe a new three-day truce that was brokered by the United States and Saudi Arabia in an attempt to pull Africa's third-largest nation back from the abyss.
The claims were immediately undercut by the sound of heavy gunfire and explosions in the capital of Khartoum. Residents said warplanes were flying overhead.
Several previous cease-fires declared since the April 15 outbreak of fighting were not observed, although intermittent lulls during the weekend's major Muslim holiday allowed for dramatic evacuations of hundreds of diplomats, aid workers and other foreigners by air and land.
For many Sudanese, the departure of foreigners and closure of embassies is a terrifying sign that international powers expect a worsening of the fighting that has already pushed the population into disaster.
Many Sudanese have desperately sought ways to escape the chaos, fearing that the rival camps will escalate their all-out battle for power once evacuations are completed.
In Khartoum, bus stations were packed Tuesday morning with people who had spent the night there in hopes of getting on a departing bus. Drivers increased prices, sometimes tenfold, for routes to Port Sudan or the border crossing with Egypt.
Late Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that he had helped broker a new 72-hour cease-fire. The truce would be an extension of the nominal three-day holiday cease-fire.
The Sudanese military, commanded by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the rival Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, said Tuesday they would observe the cease-fire. In separate announcements, they said Saudi Arabia played a role in the negotiations.
“This cease-fire aims to establish humanitarian corridors, allowing citizens and residents to access essential resources, healthcare, and safe zones, while also evacuating diplomatic missions,” the RSF said in a statement.
The army announcement used similar language, adding that it will abide by the truce “on the condition that the rebels commit to stopping all hostilities.”
But fighting continued, including in Omdurman, a city across the Nile River from Khartoum. Omdurman resident Amin Ishaq said there were clashes early Tuesday around the state television headquarters and around military bases just outside Omdurman.
“They did not stop fighting,” he said. “They stop only when they run out of ammunition.”
“Sounds of gunfire, explosions and flying warplanes are still heard across Khartoum,” said Atiya Abdalla Atiya, a senior figure in the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, a group that monitors casualties. “They don’t respect cease-fires.”
Atiya said he suspected the main purpose of declaring a new case-fire was to allow for more foreigners to be evacuated.
Sudan was once a symbol of hope because of its fitful efforts to transition from decades of autocratic rule to democracy. Now it faces a bleak future. Even before April 15, one-third of the population of 46 million relied on humanitarian assistance. Most of those providing aid have suspended operations.
In the past 11 days, Sudanese have faced a harrowing search for safety in the constantly shifting battle of explosions, gunfire and armed fighters looting shops and homes. Many have been huddling in their homes for days. Food and fuel are leaping in price and harder to find, electricity and internet are cut off in much of the country, and hospitals are near collapse.
Those who can afford it were making the 15-hour drive to the Egyptian border or to Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast. Those without means to get abroad streamed out to relatively calmer provinces along the Nile, north and south of Khartoum.
United Nations 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.”
More than 420 people, including at least 291 civilians, have been killed and over 3,700 wounded since the fighting began. The military has appeared to have the upper hand in Khartoum but the RSF still controls many districts in the capital and Omdurman, and has several large strongholds around the country.
Meanwhile, airlifts of foreigners continued.
Britain said Tuesday that it will run evacuation flights for U.K. nationals from an airfield outside Khartoum. However, those trying to get on a flight will have to make their own way to the airfield, said British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
The situation is “dangerous, volatile and unpredictable,” Cleverly told Sky News. “We cannot predict how the situation on the ground will develop."
Officials have said there are as many as 4,000 British citizens in Sudan, 2,000 of whom have registered for potential evacuation. The Foreign Office said priority would be given to families with children, the sick and the elderly.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that France has evacuated 538 people, including 209 French nationals. The large-scale French rescue operation and the inclusion of citizens from three dozen other countries stood in contrast to limited evacuation efforts by the U.S. and Britain.
The British government, which evacuated its diplomats from Sudan over the weekend, has come under growing criticism for its failure to airlift civilians, as some European countries have done.
The U.S. said Monday that it has begun facilitating the departure of private U.S. citizens after swooping in to extract diplomats on Sunday. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. has placed intelligence and reconnaissance assets over the evacuation route from Khartoum to Port Sudan but does not have any U.S. troops on the ground.
Germany said one of its rescue planes flew another mission early Tuesday, bringing the total of people evacuated to nearly 500.
Despite the pullout, U.S. and European officials insisted they were still engaged in trying to secure an end to the fighting. But so far the conflict has shown how little leverage they have with Burhan and Dagalo who appear determined to fight to the end.
The U.S. and EU have been dealing with the generals for years, trying to push them into ceding power to a democratic, civilian government. A pro-democracy uprising led to the 2019 ouster of former strongman Omar al-Bashir. But in 2021, Burhan and Dagalo joined forces to seize power in a coup.