Sudan Starts Evacuating Its Nationals From South Sudan

The UN says at least 36,000 people have fled their homes in Juba since the latest bout of fighting, while three quarters of the population need humanitarian aid. By Isaac Kasamani (AFP/File)

Khartoum (AFP) - Dozens of Sudanese arrived in Khartoum from Juba Friday as Sudan began evacuating at least 3,000 of its nationals from South Sudan, which split from the north five years ago.

South Sudanese voted for independence from Sudan under a peace agreement in 2011, but the world's youngest country fell into a civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people.

South Sudan was rocked by fighting again last week when fierce battles erupted in the capital ahead of the country's independence anniversary.

The United Nations said on Friday at least 300 people were killed in four days of intense gun battles in Juba and 42,000 have fled the city.

"We were in our house when suddenly gunfire erupted. We hid under our beds," said Wisam Ibrahim, who is married to a Sudanese businessman in Juba.

"But soon we had to leave our house when it was hit by a bomb," she told AFP after arriving at Khartoum airport on the first flight from Juba.

Although a ceasefire has held since late Monday, the UN has warned of the possibility of fresh fighting in the city.

Specially chartered planes have been flying foreign nationals out of South Sudan since Wednesday.

Sudan too began evacuating its citizens, and the first flight carrying 76 Sudanese arrived in Khartoum on Friday afternoon.

"We stayed inside our house for four or five days," said Elamin Abdel Ghaffar, a businessman who has lived in Juba for 32 years.

"We didn't sleep or step out as long as there was fighting. We ate only rice and lentils."

- 'Looted and destroyed' -

Some Sudanese told AFP they had suffered heavy losses because of the fighting.

"My husband's shop was completely looted and destroyed," said Buthaina Ahmed.

"I even lost my passport and Sudanese national identity card. I travelled only on a document" supplied by Khartoum's mission in Juba, she said.

Sudan said it planned to evacuate more than 3,000 of its nationals living across South Sudan.

"We are focusing on bringing women, children and elderly people first," government official Gamal Ahmed told reporters at Khartoum airport.

"More than 3,000 people have registered so far. We have made all arrangements for their evacuation."

Officials said on Thursday Sudan will operate three to four flights a day to bring its citizens home.

Most Sudanese in South Sudan are traders and employees with international NGOs, officials said.

Last week saw four days of intense battles in Juba between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and former rebels backing Vice President Riek Machar.

The violence marks a fresh blow to last year's deal to end the conflict which erupted when Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup.

The fighting has largely been along ethnic lines, pitting Kiir's Dinka against Machar's Nuer, the country's two largest groups.

The conflict has witnessed horrific atrocities between the two groups, including gang rapes, the wholesale burning of villages and even cannibalism.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since 2013 and more than two million driven from their homes.

Source: Abdelmoneim ABU IDRIS ALI
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