Panicking under a bed, living next to a cannon: stories from Sudan evacuees
Leila Oulkebous says she is “miraculous” after having “seen death”: this Moroccan doctoral student in geography recounts days of anguish, the “breathlessness” in Khartoum, then her “relief” at having been able to return to France, thanks to the support of the French authorities.
When hostilities started twelve days ago between the paramilitaries of General Mohamed Hamdane Daglo's Rapid Support Forces (FSR) and the regular army of Abdel Fattah al-Burhane, the academic had just reached the island of Touti, in the middle of the Sudanese capital, where she is doing research for her thesis.
“As soon as I arrive, I turn around and I see explosions, I hear loud detonations, exchanges of fire”, says the young woman with curly hair, met by AFP Wednesday morning in Paris, among 245 evacuees from Sudan. .
Going back to your hotel is too dangerous. Leila Oulkebous, 28, is welcomed by a Sudanese family who, without knowing her, take her in, feed her and above all try to appease her for more than a week, while the war is raging. “It was thanks to them that I was able to cushion the shock”.
Touti, where Blue Nile and White Nile meet to become the Nile, has no barracks and is therefore not a target for either side, she said. “But we could hear the explosions all over the city. The island was like a sounding board.”
Security remains very relative there. A shell falls one day on a nearby house. “A whole family is dead”.
Between the incessant thud of bullets and the more spaced-out rumble of artillery, “those outside were afraid to take bullets, and those who were inside feared the shells”. So Leila Oulkebous and her hosts live “hidden under beds”.
“I cried, I had heart palpitations, my breath was taken away,” she says. “I saw death. I thought it was over for me.” Until a member of the French embassy, who lived on the island, came to help her.
Nicolas Forgeard-Grignon, an agricultural consultant on mission in Sudan, resides , in a hotel in Khartoum, among a dozen foreigners, when a squad of FSR suddenly takes possession of the building.
“When anti-aircraft guns (placed in the hotel grounds, editor's note) start firing, it makes a racket impossible,” he recalls.
But “afterwards you get used to . It's a background noise”, like a “storm”, he remarks. “We forget what is happening outside because we have no outlet. We try to refocus on what we can do, to ensure food, water…”
42-year-old Nicolas Forgeard-Grignon says he was lucky in his misfortune, because his hotel had substantial food supplies, water in the taps, and even internet.
“ I know people who have spent five days in the dark”, observes his colleague Merry Davieaud, 32, who had already made “more than 70 stays” in Sudan, including during the 2021 coup, which brought MM. Burhane and Daglo in power.
A “very quick putsch,” he recalls. We had managed our own extraction. Sudan, despite its turbulent political life, remains very reassuring according to Mr. Davieaud, with a low level of delinquency. “I'm less afraid of walking in Khartoum with cash than in the metro in Paris,” he says.
But the situation for twelve days has changed radically, in a an agglomeration of more than 5 million inhabitants whose two camps are vying for control. More than 459 people have been killed and more than 4,000 injured, according to the UN.
The three evacuees believe that the civilians are not a target of the belligerents, but rather of “collateral damage”, because “both sides want the support of the population”, according to Nicolas Forgeard-Grignon.
En testifies to the evacuation of foreign nationals by France, during which the two camps took turns ensuring the security of the convoy.
A French soldier was however injured during the 'a reconnaissance mission between the aerodrome and the regrouping points of the nationals, indicated the French general staff.
There remains the Sudanese population, of whom all three do not stop thinking. On takeoff of the plane that took him from Sudan on Sunday, Merry Davieaud confides that he was “happy to leave”, while feeling “great sadness” for his acquaintances on the spot, of whom he does not know “in what sauce (they ) are going to be eaten”.
Leila Oulkebous remains in contact with the family who took her in, whom she regrets having “let go” for lack of being able to help her. And to praise a Sudanese people “generous, resistant, an extraordinary people”.