21st Feb 2024

EU warned on Russian mercenaries amid Sudan exodus

  • Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto (r) issued Russia warning (Photo:
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EU diplomats and civilians are fleeing Sudan amid concern Russian mercenaries will exploit the Western vacuum.

French and Spanish military forces led the way in taking "more than 1,000" EU nationals out of Sudan over the weekend, including most of the EU embassy's 20 or so diplomats, EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell said on Monday (24 April).

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Dutch, German, Italian, and Swedish planes have also been taking EU nationals from countries, such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, and Ireland, with fewer capabilities in the region, in efforts praised by European foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg the same day.

There were 11 flights by EU countries on Sunday and 20 on Monday, with some 400 EU citizens still on the ground, Borrell said.

"It's a great success, much better than I had expected," he said, following a famously disorderly Western exit from Afghanistan in 2021.

"It's a very strong European team effort", Irish foreign minister Micheál Martin said.

"There's a shocking level of violence," he said.

The Western exodus began when US and British special forces led major operations to get thousands of American and UK nationals out this weekend.

US military helicopters flew from neighbouring Djibouti to pick up personnel. The UK operation involved 1,200 soldiers and Britain is moving two warships to Port Sudan to take more people in the future.

The security collapse, including reports of looting and sexual violence in Khartoum and Omdurman, began a week ago after two rival generals clashed over power-sharing.

Borrell said he had spoken to both of them to try to calm things down, while warning that civil war in the country of 45 million people could send "shockwaves" through all of Africa.

"You have to stop the war, silence the guns," he said on Monday.

The fighting has also seen tens of thousands of people fleeing to neighbouring countries, such as Chad, Egypt, and South Sudan.

Some 3,000 people have come to the South Sudanese border town of Renk, the International Organization for Migration, a UN offshoot, said. Some 20,000 have fled to Chad, while bus-stations in Khartoum were reportedly being mobbed by locals.

"People believe that, after the [Western] evacuation, things are going to get even more dangerous here for people who stay," Duaa Tariq, a Sudanese civil society activist, told The Times of London.

"Sudan can spread conflict to neighbouring countries but also cause a big migration wave," Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said in Luxembourg.

The EU embassy's chargé d'affaires and head of security in Khartoum is the only diplomat who stayed behind, Borrell noted on Monday.

But for Haavisto, EU diplomacy was needed more than ever to stop the situation getting worse.

The EU should do more to get vulnerable Sudanese nationals to safety as well as its own people, Haavisto said.

It should be talking to neighbouring Chad, Ethiopia, and Kenya and to Sudan's civil society leaders for the sake of peace, he added.

"If we leave, we also leave some space for Wagner troops and Russia to play this game," Haavisto also warned, referring to a Russian mercenary group.

Russia is trying to evacuate some 140 Russian civilians who want to leave, its ambassador to Sudan said.

But the Wagner group has been training and arming the Sudanese military and mining gold in Sudan for the past five years.

While initially taking a neutral stance in the latest fighting, US officials told The New York Times they have now offered to back one side, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by general Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

The Russian aid was to include anti-aircraft missiles from Wagner's arsenal in Central African Republic, the US newspaper reported.

Russia is planning to build a Red Sea naval base in Port Sudan and relies on Sudanese black-market gold to help fund its war effort in Ukraine.

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