Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said Thursday that Canada is unable to evacuate citizens from Sudan “at the moment” as deadly fighting between rival military factions continues to destabilize the capital of Khartoum.
Joly’s comments came as other countries, including the United States, were preparing for potential evacuations of embassy staff from the city. Late Thursday, the U.S. State Department confirmed the death of an American citizen in Sudan, underscoring the danger people are facing amid the ongoing violence.
“We can confirm the death of one U.S. citizen in Sudan,” a State Department spokesperson told Global News. The department declined to provide further details, citing respect for the person’s family, who are being provided support.
A new, 72-hour ceasefire appeared to be taking shape early Friday morning.
The Pentagon said earlier Thursday it was deploying “additional capabilities” nearby in the region for a possible evacuation if the situation continues to worsen.
The Department of National Defence (DND) has not yet said if it will do the same. But Joly said it is currently “impossible” to evacuate Canadians from Sudan given the current risk to safety.
“The airport is closed and inaccessible, the streets are not safe,” Joly told reporters in Ottawa. “What we’re saying to Canadians is: please, shelter in place.”
She added officials are “assessing the situation constantly.”
The New York Times reported Thursday that additional U.S. troops were being deployed to the East African nation of Djibouti to prepare for a possible evacuation of U.S. embassy staff from Khartoum, which is more than 1,600 kilometres away.
The Pentagon did not confirm the exact location of the deployments, saying in a statement it “does not speculate on potential future operations.”
“The Department of Defense, through U.S. Africa Command, is monitoring the situation in Sudan and conducting prudent planning for various contingencies,” spokesperson Lt. Col. Phil Ventura said.
“As part of this, we are deploying additional capabilities nearby in the region for contingency purposes related to securing and potentially facilitating the departure of U.S. embassy personnel from Sudan, if circumstances require it.”
A defence ministry spokesperson told Global News that Canada is “actively monitoring the situation in Sudan and planning for various possibilities, including collaboration with like-minded governments.”
The department would not confirm if evacuation preparations were underway. It echoed the Pentagon by saying it “can’t speculate on potential or future operations.”
Canada closed its embassy in Sudan on Monday after the violence broke out in Khartoum over the weekend between the Sudanese army and a rival paramilitary force, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who are battling for control of the country.
At least 330 people have been killed and 3,300 wounded in the fighting since it began Saturday, the World Health Organization said, but the toll is likely higher because many bodies lie uncollected in the streets.
A tenuous 24-hour cease-fire that began the previous day ran out Thursday evening with no word of extension. That was followed by a military statement that ruled out negotiations with the RSF and saying it would only accept its surrender.
Early Friday, the RSF announced it had agreed to a new, 72-hour ceasefire to coincide with the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The United Nations and others had pushed for the ceasefire Thursday.
The Khartoum International Airport and other nearby air bases have been hit with air strikes, and airspace over the country has been closed. Movement out of the capital to safer areas has also become highly dangerous due to the fighting, although many residents took advantage of the brief ceasefire to flee their homes.
Other countries have said they are making their own contingency plans for potential evacuations. Japan also plans to send military planes to Djibouti, and the Netherlands has dispatched its own to Jordan.
Global Affairs Canada said Wednesday it knows of roughly 1,500 Canadians registered as being in Sudan, and Joly is urging anyone in that country who hasn’t submit their details to the government to do so.
She said Thursday all of Canada’s diplomats and hired local staff have been accounted for, and are trying to offer emergency consular services while working remotely.
The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, the union for Canada’s diplomatic staff, told Global News it is aware of four members currently posted in Sudan, all of whom are safe. Those are in addition to Philip Lupul, Canada’s ambassador to Sudan, and a military security office.
A spokesperson said the union was not aware of any plans underway for an immediate evacuation, but noted all Canadian missions abroad normally have contingency plans in place for various scenarios.
“The situation we are seeing unfold in Sudan once again highlights the difficult and dangerous conditions under which foreign service officers work,” Eric Schallenberg said in an email. “And, as always, our priority is the safety and security of our members.”
Joly said she is planning to speak with her counterparts in the African Union as well as nearby countries such as Egypt and Djibouti, and she urged a de-escalation to the conflict.
She added that a historic number of conflicts means Ottawa must invest more in diplomacy, both to offer consular services to Canadians and to prevent conflict.
Ann Fitz-Gerald, director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ont., told Global News she doesn’t see an immediate end to the conflict, making it critical to ensure the safety of civilians.
That should mean keeping at least essential diplomatic staff on the ground to help facilitate ceasefire talks and the flow of humanitarian aid, she said.
“You need people on the ground putting pressure on those actors” and securing limited agreements in place of a full ceasefire, such as the opening of airspace and humanitarian corridors, she said.
“The focus during any event like this has to be on the protection of civilians.”
Aid groups have been unable to deliver help to Sudan’s overwhelmed hospitals, Atiya Abdulla Atiya, secretary of the Sudanese Doctors’ Syndicate, said Thursday.
Hospitals in Khartoum are running dangerously low on medical supplies, often operating without power and clean water, the group said, and about 70 per cent of hospitals across the country are out of service because of the fighting.
The conflict has once again derailed Sudan’s attempt to establish democratic rule after a popular uprising helped depose long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir four years ago.
Army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan and RSF commander Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who led a coup that purged a transitional civilian government in 2021, were on the verge of settling a new democratic transition when the conflict between the two military leaders erupted.
“We were so close to achieving a civilian government,” said Fitz-Gerald, who previously worked in the country and supported peace talks during the secession of South Sudan between 2010 and 2014 .
“This situation is endemic of a system that has existed in Sudan (for years) where the military has got too much of a role in politics.”
— with files from the Associated Press