An RAF Lockheed C130J Hercules transport sits at Larnaca-Akrotiri Airport in Cyprus early Wednesday after landing from Sudan. Photo courtesy of the British Ministry of Defence
April 26 (UPI) — Britain’s military operation to evacuate thousands of its citizens gathered pace Wednesday as it neared the midpoint of a three-day ceasefire amid concerns that some aircraft were not full.
Flight tracking services showed a third Royal Air Force Lockheed C-130J Hercules transport landing at Cyprus’s Larnaca airport just after 3 p.m. EDT, bringing the number of British evacuees to about 300, with more flights scheduled to arrive throughout the day. the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a Twitter post.
More than 1,000 British troops are involved in the operation. Ground forces secured the Wadi Saeedna airstrip north of the capital Khartoum from German forces after the last Berlin evacuation flight left on Tuesday night. Downing Street said troops would defend the airfield but every effort would be made to avoid interaction with local forces.
But the operation has drawn criticism for the small number of people being evacuated from the war-torn former British colony, where 11 days of fighting between rival military government factions has left at least 420 dead.
The BBC told the BBC that evacuees who arrived in Cyprus had struggled to reach the airfield because of a lack of aid from the British government, while others still in Sudan said they did not take up the offer because they did not want to leave behind old or sick relatives who could not be evacuated.
The government defended the operation, with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying it was the right decision to prioritize diplomatic staff, who were all evacuated on Sunday “because they were targeted”.
“The security situation in Sudan is complex, volatile and we wanted to make sure we could put processes in place that would benefit the people, be safe and effective,” he said.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace admitted there was “some risk that some of the planes are not full” because there were not “thousands” at the gate, as there were on flights from Kabul in August 2021, when American and NATO forces withdrew from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has warned of a “massive biological risk” from the lab seized by Sudanese militias, and that the lack of staff and power supply made it impossible to properly handle biological materials, including isolates of polio, measles and cholera.
CNN reported that a senior medical source said the National Public Health Laboratory had been taken over by fighters from the Rapid Support Force, one of two military factions vying for control of the country.
Nima Saeed Abid, the WHO representative in Sudan, said the situation was “very dangerous because we have polio isolates in the laboratory, we have measles isolates in the laboratory, we have cholera isolates in the laboratory.”