(CNN) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced that the warring factions in Sudan agreed to a a ceasefire, “starting at midnight on April 24, to last for 72 hours.”
The agreement between the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, and the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, came “following intense negotiation over the past 48 hours,” Blinken said.
“The United States urges the SAF and RSF to immediately and fully uphold the ceasefire,” Blinken said. “To support a durable end to the fighting, the United States will coordinate with regional and international partners, and Sudanese civilian stakeholders, to assist in the creation of a committee to oversee the negotiation, conclusion, and implementation of a permanent cessation of hostilities and humanitarian arrangements in Sudan.”
In a written statement Monday, the RSF said it had agreed to the truce “in order to open humanitarian corridors, facilitate the movement of citizens and residents, enable them to fulfill their needs, reach hospitals and safe areas, and evacuate diplomatic missions.”
Previously agreed ceasefires have broken down, although brief lulls in the fighting have allowed foreign civilians to evacuate Sudan to safety.
If the new three-day cessation of fighting holds, it could create an opportunity to get much-needed critical resources like food and medical supplies to those in need.
It could also allow for the safe passage of the “dozens” of Americans who Blinken said have expressed interest in leaving Sudan.
Although a number of nations are evacuating their citizens, US officials have repeatedly said they do not plan to evacuate Americans from the country due to conditions on the ground.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN’s “This Morning” Monday the situation in Sudan “is not conducive and not safe to try to conduct some kind of a larger military evacuation of American citizens.”
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday, however, that the US government is “actively facilitating the departure of American citizens who want to leave Sudan” through means like overland convoys.
US diplomatic employees evacuated but other Americans remain in Sudan
All US government employees were evacuated from Khartoum in a US military operation and the US embassy was “temporarily” closed this weekend after a week of heavy fighting between rival military factions which has left hundreds dead and thousands wounded.
Multiple foreign powers have scrambled to rescue embassy staff, diplomats and nationals in recent days, even as many Sudanese are stuck in deteriorating and deadly conditions.
French Foreign Minister spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre told CNN’s Isa Soares on Monday that France had evacuated approximately 500 people including almost 200 of them from 36 other countries.
Saudi Arabia rescued 10 Saudi nationals and 189 foreigners including Americans from Port Sudan, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in a written statement on its official Twitter account on Monday.
South Korea and Japan were the latest nations to confirm new evacuations of their citizens on Tuesday.
But many foreigners remain.
President Joe Biden has asked for “every conceivable option” to help Americans who remain in Sudan, Sullivan said.
“Right now, we believe that the best way for us to help facilitate people’s departure is in fact to support this land evacuation route, as well as work with allies and partners who are working on their own evacuation plans as well,” he said at a White House briefing.
Blinken, who noted that the US does not have specific counts of how many Americans are in Sudan “because Americans are not required to register” with the US State Department, said the US has been in touch with American citizens on the ground to provide “consular services, other services, advice.”
“We do know of course the number of Americans who have registered with us, and with whom we’re in very active touch, communication. Of those, I would say some dozens have expressed an interest in leaving,” Blinken said at a news conference at the State Department.
“In just the last 36 hours since the embassy evacuation was completed, we’ve continued to be in close communication with US citizens and individuals affiliated with the US government to provide assistance and facilitate available departure routes for those seeking to move to safety via land, air and sea,” said Blinken, noting that included American citizens “traveling overland in the UN convoy from Khartoum to Port Sudan.”
“We’re also deploying naval assets to Port Sudan in the Red Sea in case Americans who get out to Port Sudan want to be transported elsewhere or need any kind of care,” he added.
Sullivan said the US has “deployed US intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to support land evacuation routes, which Americans are using, and we’re moving naval assets within the region to provide support.”
“American citizens have begun arriving in Port Sudan and we are helping to facilitate their onward travel,” he said.
Many dual nationals ‘don’t want to leave’
Officials told congressional staffers last week that there could be an estimated 16,000 American citizens in Sudan, most of whom are dual nationals.
Both Blinken and Kirby echoed this on Monday and suggested that many of those dual nationals “don’t want to leave” the country.
“We think the vast majority of these American citizens in Sudan, and they’re not all in Khartoum, are dual nationals — these are people who grew up in Sudan, who have families, their work, their businesses there, who don’t want to leave,” he said.
In the days leading up to the evacuation, officials in Washington and the US Embassy in Khartoum repeatedly stressed that they did not envision carrying out a government-coordinated evacuation of American citizens due to the lack of an operational airport and the ongoing fighting on the ground.
Still, there are worries about how to get Americans who wish to depart out of Sudan safely, especially now that the US does not have a diplomatic presence there. Although the US State Department warned US citizens against traveling to Sudan, some Americans with loved ones in the country suggested that the government had not done enough to advise Americans already in the country to leave.
Some countries have already successfully carried out evacuations, including Spain, Jordan, Italy, France, Denmark and Germany, while the United Kingdom has evacuated embassy staff. Several of their convoys also carried citizens from other countries.
Saudi Arabia evacuated 10 Saudi nationals and 189 foreigners including Americans from Sudan, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Twitter Monday.
More evacuations are still being planned or are underway for the countries like China and India.
There is immense concern about the safety of those who still remain in the country, regardless of their nationality, given the ongoing violence and its impact on critical resources like food, water and medical care. Internet connectivity has also been unreliable, leaving family members and friends outside of Sudan to worry if their loved ones are safe.
The US government typically does not facilitate evacuations for regular citizens, and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan presented a rare — and chaotic — exception to that norm. Although the Biden administration has sought to avoid comparisons to that event, “Kabul casts a very long shadow over Khartoum,” in the words of one former official.
‘Awful holding pattern’
Rebecca Winter, whose sister and 18-month-old niece are in Sudan, told CNN that they are in an “awful holding pattern” because her sister “has been told by both the US embassy and the international school that she works for that she has to shelter in place, and that she should not accept any offers for private evacuation.”
“So she is just stuck waiting right now in fear,” she said.
Although the US State Department warned Americans against traveling to Sudan, Winter said that according to her sister, “US employees there were not asked to leave the country.”
Fatima Elsheikh, whose two brothers are in Sudan, also pushed back on the claim that US citizens who were already on the ground were warned before the outbreak of violence.
“It makes me upset, because there was no warning. I don’t, I think it’s being painted as a country that’s been war-torn for a while, which isn’t true. This is unprecedented, what’s happening,” she said.
The State Department travel advisory for Sudan prior to the outbreak of violence did not specifically tell Americans already in the country to leave, but advised them to “have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance” and “have a personal emergency action plan that does not rely on U.S. government assistance.”
Blinken said Monday that the effort to assist Americans will “be an ongoing process.” He said the US is looking at resuming its diplomatic presence in Sudan, including in Port Sudan, but “that’s going to be entirely dependent on the conditions in Sudan.”
Kirby said Monday morning that the violence in Sudan “is increasing,” and urged Americans remaining in the country to shelter in place.
“It’s more dangerous today than it was just yesterday, the day before, and so, the best advice we can give to those Americans who did not abide by our warnings to leave Sudan and not to travel to Sudan is to stay sheltered in place,” Kirby said.
Blinken said that “some of the convoys that have tried to move people out” of Khartoum “have encountered problems, including robbery, looting, that kind of thing,” but did not specify whether those convoys were carrying US citizens.