Swiss envoy describes how bus trembled in narrow escape from Sudan

By Cecile Mantovani and Emma Farge

BERN (Reuters) -A Swiss ambassador described on Tuesday a narrow escape during a French-assisted evacuation mission from Sudan, with air strikes shaking an evacuation bus carrying diplomats to a military base.

Switzerland has already shut its embassy and evacuated all Swiss staff and their families over the past few days amid clashes between warring factions that have killed hundreds since April 15.

“The evacuation was quite a difficult exercise because the fighting continued even during the evacuation,” Ambassador Christian Winter told reporters on the tarmac in front of the Swiss army plane that flew them home from Djibouti.

“We heard shooting, even jets that bombed a few neighbourhoods near to where we were passing. We heard it and even the bus was trembling. It showed that it was close and dangerous.”

Local embassy staff were not evacuated with the Swiss, Winter said.

“What is weighing heavily on our minds is what is happening to our local colleagues,” he said.

Unlike in Afghanistan where Switzerland evacuated a total of 230 Afghans in 2021, the criteria for extracting locals had not been met in Sudan, a Swiss foreign affairs ministry spokesperson said. He added that Bern continued to provide them with support.

Winter’s team were transported to France’s embassy in Khartoum and then took buses escorted by the Sudanese paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to a military base outside the capital. They arrived in Bern early on Tuesday.

He described how he had to veer off the road to take cover from crossfire when the fighting first erupted ten days ago. During the following days, his residence in Khartoum was hit by crossfire that missed the windows by a few centimetres.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry said a total of seven staff and five accompanying persons were evacuated.

Swiss Foreign Minister Cassis said at the same news conference that Bern was monitoring opportunities to evacuate some of the remaining 100 Swiss citizens from Sudan but admitted that it may not be possible to get those out who also have Sudanese nationality.

“It’s not very easy because joint nationals are not allowed to leave the country because of their Sudanese nationality and we will see what happens,” he said, saying Khartoum required a permit for them to exit.

Some 30 of the 100 Swiss people remaining in Sudan have expressed their desire to leave, Winter said.

(Reporting by Cecile Mantovani, Emma Farge, Friederike Heine and Tanya Wood; editing by Kirsti Knolle, Nick Macfie and Bernadette Baum)