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Sudan turmoil: Egyptian military says troops returned home

The Rapid Response Forces earlier said they handed Egyptian soldiers to the Red Cross
A column of smoke rises behind buildings near the airport area in Khartoum on 19 April 2023, amid fighting between the army and paramilitaries following the collapse of a 24-hour truce (AFP)

The Egyptian army said on Thursday that three flights carrying its troops have returned to Cairo from Sudan.

The announcement confirmed an earlier statement by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) on Wednesday evening that 177 Egyptian Air Force troops were airlifted back to Egypt.

In that statement, the Sudanese army referred to the 177 Egyptian soldiers as "captives" of the paramilitary the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which the army is fighting against in Khartoum. However, on Thursday, they retracted this statement and claimed that it was an error to use the term "captives".

The army also said that other Egyptian troops who were still in Sudan had reached Egypt's embassy in Khartoum with the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The RSF had earlier said it had handed over 27 Egyptian soldiers in its custody to the Red Cross on Thursday morning. 

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Fierce fighting between the Sudanese army and the RSF has been ongoing across Sudan, including the capital Khartoum, since Saturday, with two new attempts at a ceasefire failing on Wednesday.

The RSF detained the soldiers over the weekend after they stormed the Merowe airbase, in northern Sudan, where they were reportedly participating in joint military exercises between Sudan and Egypt.

The RSF statement did not provide any details on the circumstances surrounding the handover or the detention of the Egyptian soldiers, but said the ICRC had been involved in the process of their release.

ICRC has not confirmed its involvement in the swap yet.

Egyptian military presence 

The RSF released a video on Saturday showing a number of Egyptian troops that it claimed had "surrendered" to its forces when it stormed the Merowe airport during the ongoing hostilities.

The footage showed several men wearing military-style clothing, sitting on the ground and speaking with members of the RSF in an Egyptian Arabic dialect. 

On Wednesday, the RSF said it moved the soldiers to Khartoum.

The paramilitary force also released a video on Saturday claiming it had captured the strategic Merowe air base, located around 186 miles north of Khartoum. The footage showed a number of Egyptian MiG-29M/M2 Fulcrum fighter jets that were used in joint Sudanese-Egyptian drills in 2020. 

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While the official spokesman of the Egyptian army said the troops were in Sudan as part of military exercises, there was no explanation as to why they were not flown out of the country after clashes between rival armed forces in Sudan erupted.

Additionally, there had been no official announcement regarding the presence of Egyptian troops in Sudan, following the end of the latest joint exercises announced last month.

Mahmoud Gamal, an Egyptian military affairs analyst, ruled out that the Egyptian forces were at the airbase due to joint military exercises as claimed. 

"The videos show what looks like a military battalion," Gamal told Middle East Eye.

"Military exercises are specific in nature, whether on land, air or sea. But the officers arrested by the RSF belong to different army units, including infantry, and air defence forces." 

On Monday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said the troops were in Sudan to conduct exercises with their Sudanese counterparts and were not supporting any warring parties. Sisi has said he is in contact with the RSF to assure the troops' safety. 

The clashes between RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces have so far killed at least 330 people and wounded more than 3,200 since fighting began on Saturday, according to figures announced by the director-general of the UN's World Health Organisation, Tedros Ghebreyesus. 

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