Italy airlifts 96 people to safety out of conflict-torn Sudan

ROME (Reuters) – Two Italian military planes on Monday evacuated 96 people out of Sudan, as Western, Arab and Asian nations rushed to get their citizens out of the African country amid an eruption of violence.

The surge in hostilities between the military and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group on April 15 has killed at least 427 people, knocked out hospitals and other services and turned residential areas into war zones.

Sudan’s sudden slide into conflict has also stranded thousands of foreigners, including diplomats and aid workers.

The two military aircrafts were carrying 83 Italian nationals and 13 citizens of different nationalities, whom were all first evacuated from Khartoum and taken to Djibouti, where the planes took off from.

The first aircraft, a Boeing KC-767, landed in Rome’s Ciampino airport around 1825 GMT and the second was expected to touch down later in the night.

Footage showed the military escorts and the rescued people, among them minors and Italy’s ambassador to Sudan, exiting the aircraft and smiling as they shook hands with government officials, including Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.

“We are very happy to be here… there were a lot of delicate moments,” Ambassador Michele Tommasi told journalists.

“It was not an easy (rescue) operation. However, one that had excellent results,” Tajani said, adding that all of the Italian citizens that had asked to be flown out of Sudan were brought to safety.

He said that some Italians – NGO workers and missionaries – had decided to stay in the country, while another 19 had successfully been taken to Egypt two days ago.

Tajani also said that on Sunday he had held conversations with the leaders of both Khartoum’s army and the RSF, and asked them to reach a ceasefire and find an agreement.

(Reporting by Antonio Denti and Gugliemo Mangiapane; Writing by Federico Maccioni; editing by Jonathan Oatis)