(CNN) The World Health Organization warned of an “enormous biohazard” on Tuesday after Sudanese fighters seized the National Public Health Laboratory in the capital Khartoum as foreign countries scrambled to organize a swift evacuation. of the country and the violence broke the fragile ceasefire negotiated by the United States.
CNN journalists in Khartoum heard gunshots and the roar of warplanes on Tuesday, half a day after the announcement of a 72-hour truce raised hopes of opening escape routes for civilians desperate to flee. In the north of the state of Khartoum, heavy clashes are taking place between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces, the paramilitary group fighting against the army for control of the country, according to information from eyewitnesses to CNN.
The two opposing sides accused each other of violating the agreement.
The death toll in Sudan since violence erupted 11 days ago has risen to at least 459 dead, the World Health Organization also reported on Tuesday, with at least 4,072 injured.
The seized laboratory, a potential “bacteriological bomb”
A high-ranking medical source told CNN that the laboratory, which contains disease samples and other biological material, had been taken over by RSF forces. The WHO did not attribute the seizure of the laboratory, but stated that medical technicians no longer had access to the facilities.
Nima Saeed Abid, the WHO representative in Sudan, described the event as “extremely dangerous because we have polio isolates in the laboratory, we have measles isolates in the laboratory, we have cholera isolates in the laboratory.”
“There is a huge biological risk associated with the occupation of the Khartoum central public health laboratory by one of the fighting parties,” he added.
The WHO told CNN that “trained laboratory technicians no longer have access to the laboratory” and that the facility had suffered power outages, meaning that “it is not possible to adequately manage the biological materials that are stored in the laboratory for medical purposes.” doctors”.
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According to the general director of the laboratory, power outages also pose a risk of deteriorating stocks of blood bags, which are running out.
The medical source told CNN that “the danger lies in the outbreak of any armed confrontation in the laboratory, because that would turn the laboratory into a germ bomb.”
“Urgent and rapid international intervention is necessary to restore electricity and protect the laboratory from any armed confrontation because we are facing a real biological danger,” the source added.
CNN contacted RSF for comment.
Countries rush to remove their citizens
The United Kingdom, France, South Korea and many other countries confirmed on Tuesday that they had withdrawn their citizens after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that a three-day ceasefire had been agreed.
Meanwhile, the White House is considering a plan to send US troops to Port Sudan to assist in the evacuation of US citizens, a US official with knowledge of the events told CNN on Monday.
Three US warships are also being deployed off the coast of Sudan. A Navy official told CNN that the US is sending the USNS Brunswick to Sudan, a day after the Pentagon said the USS Truxton is already off the country’s coast and the USS Lewis B. Puller is in path.
The CNN team in Djibouti obtained images released by the US military showing personnel arriving in that country. France and Pakistan said they had evacuated hundreds of nationals, while China said most of its citizens had also been withdrawn from the country.
US government personnel arrive in Djibouti after being evacuated from Sudan. (Credit: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Maria A. Olvera Trist/US Navy Photo)
Some 500 people fleeing the fighting began to board the French frigate “Lorraine” in Port Sudan on Tuesday afternoon, a spokesman for the French Defense Chief of Staff told CNN.
At least one US citizen, Dr. Bushra Ibnauf Sulieman, a Sudanese-American physician, died Tuesday in Khartoum.
Sulieman, who taught at the University of Khartoum, the country’s oldest medical school, died “after being stabbed to death in front of his home by unknown persons,” according to the Sudan Doctors Union Preliminary Committee.
“Dr. Sulieman was assassinated in front of his home due to the security situation in Sudan, while he was accompanying his father to a dialysis appointment,” said Dr. Yasir Elamin, President of the Sudanese American Physicians Association.
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Previous ceasefires have collapsed within hours of signing, since fighting engulfed Sudan in mid-April. But the latest deal, which Blinken said came after two days of “intensive negotiations,” has raised hopes that it opens a window in which foreign nations can hastily get citizens and individuals to safety. According to a statement from the Sudanese Armed Forces, Saudi Arabia also participated in the truce mediation.
Both parties to the conflict accused each other on Tuesday of breaking the truce. The armed forces claimed that the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were moving military convoys to the capital to carry out a large-scale military operation, had deployed snipers in some parts of Khartoum and were carrying out near embassies. The army provided no evidence for its claims.
The RSF blamed the army for violating the truce by “continuing to attack Khartoum with planes.” Eyewitnesses told CNN that warplanes were heard over Omdurman, north of the capital.
Shortage of supplies in the capital
As the conflict drags on into its second week, water supplies are running low and food is “running out” in the state of Khartoum, a witness told CNN on Tuesday.
“Stores are completely out of food” and several state food factories have been looted, the witness, who remained anonymous for security reasons, told CNN.
“As for the water supply, there is no water for the eleventh day in a row. We only got water from a nearby well. So you have to go to the well with barrels or things like that if you have a car or things like that. If not, you have to carry something small to get enough water for yourself,” the witness said.
Saif Mohamed Othman, a 51-year-old self-employed worker who lives in Shambat, north of Bahri, told CNN on Tuesday that food stocks ran out in stores, which has been exacerbated by the total burning of the central market, which supplies much of Bahri with vegetables, meat and other foods.
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Residents are also struggling financially because state employees haven’t been paid since before the Eid al-Fitr holiday late last week and bank ATMs stopped working, Othman told CNN.
Othman told CNN that patrols are in place to protect the neighborhood from widespread looting and robbery to which large parts of Khartoum have been exposed due to a lack of security and police presence.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) warned on Monday that shortages of food, water, medicine and fuel are being “extremely acute” in and around Khartoum.
“Access to health care, including sexual and reproductive health, has been severely affected by the conflict,” added UNOCHA. “Displacements of civilians continue to be recorded in the states of Khartoum, North, Blue Nile, North Kordofan, North Darfur, West Darfur and South Darfur, as well as cross-border movements to neighboring countries.”
The people fled Khartoum by bus on Tuesday. (Credit: Ahmed Satti/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Many Sudanese caught in the middle of the fighting have tried to escape the capital, taking advantage of the brief lulls in the fighting to get to safety.
Sudan has been isolated by violence since a bloody power struggle between two rival generals took to the streets, with forces loyal to each fighting in the streets of Khartoum and surrounding towns. capital.
In the course of the fighting, the RSF and the Sudanese army have issued statements discrediting the two, with unsubstantiated claims about their control of key posts in the capital and evidence that each side attacks civilians.
The Sudanese army claimed on Monday that the RSF had killed an Egyptian diplomat, while the RSF claimed the army had targeted civilians in an airstrike on a Khartoum neighborhood. Neither group provided evidence for their claims.
— CNN’s Sam Kiley, Jennifer Hansler, Donald Judd, Pierre Bairin, Aurore Laborie, Tara John and Mo Tawfeeq contributed to this report.
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