Following a broad agreement on a 72-hour truce, the British military has started the process of evacuating UK citizens from Sudan.
At least 2,000 Britons were reportedly still present in the country of North Africa as of yesterday, and there are rumors that the number may even be higher.
Around 1,400 military soldiers are reportedly working today’s operation, which involves flying British nationals first to the Akrotiri RAF station in Cyprus and then back to the UK.
According to information from the aviation website FlightRadar24, an RAF Lockheed C-130J Hercules with the registration ZH868 departed Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, at 10.21am local time, which is one hour earlier than UK time.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had previously said any effort from the government to evacuate UK citizens would be ‘severely limited’ unless there was a pause in the fighting.
The breakthrough came last night, with all sides of the conflict agreeing to put down their weapons for three days.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: ‘Following intense negotiation over the past 48 hours, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have agreed to implement a nationwide ceasefire starting at midnight on April 24, to last for 72 hours.’
A spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: ‘The prime minister made the decision [to evacuate] late last night.
‘This is something that the prime minister and the foreign secretary and others have been working on for some time now.’
This morning, Mr Cleverly tweeted: ‘The UK government is coordinating an evacuation of British nationals from Sudan.
‘We have started contacting nationals directly and providing routes for departure out of the country.’
The Foreign Office urged citizens not to travel to the airfield outside the capital Khartoum unless they are contacted, as the situation remains ‘volatile’.
Just hours after the beginning of the ceasefire last night, there were reports of gunfire and shelling heard in Khartoum.
On its website, the department says: ‘Travel within Sudan is conducted at your own risk and plans may change depending on the security situation.’
Also writing on Twitter, Mr Sunak said those most at risk would be prioritised in the evacuation.
He said: ‘The government has begun a large-scale evacuation of British passport holders from Sudan on RAF flights.
‘Priority will be given to the most vulnerable, including families with children and the elderly.’
He added: ‘I pay tribute to the British Armed Forces, diplomats and Border Force staff carrying out this complex operation.
‘The UK will continue to work to end the bloodshed in Sudan and support a democratic government.’
Newly installed Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden will chair a Cobra meeting on the evacuation efforts today, the eighth such meeting.
Sir Nicholas Kay, who served as the British ambassador in Sudan between 2010 and 2012, warned that the ceasefire was ‘precarious’ and the situation remained extremely dangerous.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The security situation can change very quickly.
‘The command and control over forces isn’t complete and there is no trust between the two sides so they might kick off again.’
British diplomats in Khartoum, as well as their family members and other embassy residents, were flown out of the country on Sunday night following a daring operation led by the SAS under heavy gunfire.
The mission had involved 1,200 personnel from the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
The group was rescued using the same types of aircraft that have been mobilised for the wider evacuation effort today: A400M and C-130 Hercules transport planes, flying from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
More than 400 people have died and thousands have been injured since the conflict between the Sudanese army and paramilitary forces began less than two weeks ago.
Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is locked into a power struggle with Hemedti, the leader of the rebel Rapid Support Forces (RSF), with both seeking control after combining to topple previous dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
Yesterday, Downing Street confirmed British ambassador to Sudan Giles Lever and his deputy were out of the country when the violence broke out.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: ‘I think it was around the time of Ramadan, that they were out of the country at that point.
‘There were very senior staff still in the country and both those who were in country and the ambassador have been working around the clock to aid efforts.’