New Delhi: The two Indian Air Force C-17 Globe Masters that the government has sent to evacuate Indians stranded in South Sudan, which has been hit by violence that has claimed hundreds of lives, will be back in India on Friday, first stopping at Thiruvananthapuram and then proceeding to New Delhi, the External Affairs Ministry stated on Thursday.
Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh reached South Sudan on Thursday, leading the government's 'Operation Sankat Mochan' to evacuate Indians from the African country.
He is being accompanied by Amar Sinha, secretary (economic relations in the ministry of external affairs), Satbir Singh, joint secretary (West Asia and North Africa) and other officials.
"The evacuation has been meticulously planned in coordination with the local authorities as well as the support of the Indian peacekeeping contingent in Unmiss (UN Mission in South Sudan)," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in a media briefing here.
He said Singh, soon after landing on Thursday, met with South Sudan foreign minister Deng Alor Kuol and the country's vice-president James Wani Igga.
According to Swarup, the first aircraft was scheduled to depart from South Sudan's capital Juba at 1 pm on Thursday. "Both aircraft will first travel to Entebbe, Uganda, for a re-fuelling halt of approximately three hours," he said. "From Entebbe they will depart for India, first landing in Thiruvananthapuram early on Friday morning and then come to Delhi."
There are around 600 Indian nationals in South Sudan and 450 of them are in Juba. It is reliably learnt that of the 600, only 300 have said that they wanted to leave in the wake of the recent violence.
Swarup said that the entire operation was being carried out under the direct supervision of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who had formed a high level task force to monitor the situation in South Sudan.
"In our assessment this was an opportune moment to arrange for the evacuation, especially since the ceasefire is holding and there is a lull in hostilities," Swarup said.
South Sudan president Salva Kiir ordered a ceasefire on Monday evening, following days of heavy fighting between government troops and forces loyal to vice-president Riek Machar in Juba.
Kiir directed all commanders to cease all hostilities, control their forces and protect civilians, information minister Michael Makuei said in a televised speech on state broadcaster SSTV.
The ceasefire took effect from 6 pm on Monday and any member of the Machar-led forces who surrendered must also be protected, Makuei said.
The latest bout of violence started on 7 July after a localised gunfight outside Kiir's residence in Juba, when he was holding a meeting with Machar.
The UN has said 36,000 South Sudanese civilians have fled their homes due to the fighting. Embassies and aid organisations in South Sudan were moving to evacuate staff from Juba amid the tenuous ceasefire.
The US military in Africa said it has sent 40 additional soldiers to Juba to help secure American personnel and facilities in the war-torn city, Fox News reported on Wednesday.