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Sudan’s transition in danger as generals suspend talks

By Patrick Smith, in Khartoum
Posted on Friday, 17 May 2019 15:01

Civilians evacuate a Sudanese protester injured during demonstrations in Khartoum on 15 May. REUTERS/Stringer

Half-way through a week of the worst violence in Khartoum since the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s junta is raising more doubts about prospects for the transition by suspending negotiations for a handover to civilian rule.

In a television broadcast in the early hours of 16 May, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan, head of the Transitional Military Council, said he would be suspending negotiations with civic groups and politicians for at least 72 hours.

  • He was speaking just hours after at least nine protestors were wounded in clashes with security forces at the mass sit-in protest that surrounds Alqiyada al Amaah, the military headquarters in central Khartoum.
  • Tensions have been rising for a week, with protesters accusing the generals of dragging their feet in talks over the structure of the future transitional authority and the balance of power on it between civilians and the military.
  • Activists in the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) – which is leading the negotiations with the military – see their protests around security installations in Khartoum, and the threat of a general strike, as their strongest leverage in the talks.

Gunshot wounds

The week started with clashes near the University of Khartoum between security forces and protesters in which at least five civilians were killed, according to the Sudanese Doctors’ Central Committee. It added that more than 60 people were being treated for gunshot wounds in clinics around the capital.

The worst clashes were near the Al Mak Nimir Bridge across the Nile, where activists had set up brick and iron barricades to restrict traffic from getting to the sit-in around the military headquarters. This was a bid to counter the growing presence of the Rapid Support Forces, under the command of General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’ Dagalo, around the protest area in Khartoum.

What does the military say?

Before negotiations on the transition can restart, a “proper climate for dialogue” would have to be established, said Lt. Gen. Burhan, “to prevent the country from sliding into uncontrollable insecurity.”

He went on to accuse the demonstrators of breaking an agreement to ramp down protests during negotiations. Negotiations would not restart until “…the removal of barricades set up outside the sit-in area, and opening railways [to allow] trains to transport supplies to the states.”

  • In fact, the main west-east railway through Khartoum has been blocked since the sit-in outside the military headquarters started on 6 April. In previous statements, the military had agreed that it would not use force to disrupt the main protest area. Activists see the clashes this week as a major breach of trust.

How have civilian activists responded to the violence?

In turn, leaders of the DFCF condemned the use of military force against the protesters and accused the junta of bad faith in the negotiations:

“The peacefulness (of the revolution) is no longer a slogan but a lifebuoy for vulnerable peoples from the tyranny of tyrannical rulers and a weapon that defeats the greatest arsenals and shakes the thrones of tyrants,” said a statement from the DFCF.

DFCF leaders called for a full independent investigation into what it called a “bloody massacre” on 13 May. “There is no justification for firing on unarmed civilians,” said the DFCF.

Although the junta has denied responsibility for the violence, reporters in the protest area said armed men wearing uniforms of the Rapid Support Forces had led the attack on 13 and 15 May.

What have they agreed so far?

After the shootings on 13 May, there was progress in negotiations on the following day, the results of which were announced at a joint press conference held by the junta and the DFCF.

The key elements were:

  • Civilians and military sharing power on a sovereign national council with 11 members
  • A civilian-dominated council of 17 ministers
  • A 150-strong legislative assembly, of which two-thirds would be drawn from members of the DFCF and the remaining third would be from “other political forces”
  • The transition would last for three years, during which time a new constitution would be drawn up and free elections would be organised
  • The first six months of the transition would be dominated by an emergency economic reform programme and peace talks between armed groups, which have agreed a bilateral but temporary ceasefire with the junta.

What is still on the agenda?

The biggest remaining questions concern decision-making on the sovereign national council and whether civilian or military members will have the casting vote.

Some in the DFCF suspect that the military’s decision to suspend the dialogue is an attempt to shore up its negotiating position on the control of the sovereign national council.

Bottom line:

There is now a real risk of negotiations for the transitional authority collapsing.

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