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Sudan’s talks on civil rule to restart says Ethiopia’s mediator

By Patrick Smith
Posted on Wednesday, 12 June 2019 08:47

A victim of violence in the crackdown on Sudanese protesters lays down inside a ward receiving treatment in a hospital in Omdurman, Khartoum, Sudan June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Bid to relaunch Sudan’s talks on civil rule as the junta doubles down and the protestors persist

Ahead of planned visits by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Tibor Nagy to Khartoum this week pro-democracy activists have agreed to suspend a general strike in exchange for a commitment from the ruling generals to release all political prisoners.

The Sudan Professionals Association, which has led the pro-democracy campaign, says it suspended the strike to enable an early resumption of negotiations with the Transitional Military Council over a transition to civil rule.

Mahmoud Drir, an Ethiopian mediator appointed by Prime Minister Abiy, said late on 11 June that both sides have agreed to resume talks “soon”.

But scepticism among activists is running high as is the belief that the TMC is playing for time after criticism of its massacre of activists last week in Khartoum. There are also signs of divisions within its ranks.

If this latest effort to restart talks fails, the crisis could escalate pitting rival factions of the military and intelligence services, backed by Egypt and the Gulf monarchies, against each other, with the risk that civilians would be caught in between.

  • If Abiy and Nagy fail, the crisis may escalate pitting rival factions of the military and intelligence services, backed by Egypt and the Gulf monarchies, against each other, sidelining the hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy activists.

Cities and towns across Sudan were almost deserted for the third day running on 11 June as pro-democracy activists stepped up their civil disobedience campaign. They launched a general strike, hitting operations at the airport and the central bank. Most shops and market stalls were shuttered.

Younger activists set up barricades across the capital to stop the military from raiding opposition strongholds.

Army of occupation after the massacre

A week ago, militia fighters in the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) under the command of the junta’s deputy leader, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo ‘Hemeti’ attacked the main protest site in Khartoum outside the Defence Headquarters.

They killed over 100, some were burned to death in tents at the protest site and wounded over 600, according to the UN and the Sudan Professionals’ Association. 

  • Many in Khartoum see the RSF fighters, moving around the city in pick-up trucks with heavy machine guns, as an army of occupation.

A power-sharing formula

Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed is to meet the pro-democracy activists and the military junta again to get them to agree a power-sharing deal in a transitional government.

  • Last week he proposed that civilians should get eight seats on a transitional council, with seven for the military. Under Abiy’s plan, the chair would alternate between the military and civilians, starting with the military.
  • This followed the African Union’s suspension of Sudan’s junta on 6 June and calls for it to transfer power to a civilian-led authority or to face further sanctions.

The Declaration for Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF), a coalition of pro-democracy groups, says it accepts Abiy’s plan and has nominated Abdallah Hamdock, a Sudanese economist and former deputy head of the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa, as prime minister and chair of the council of ministers, Reuters news agency reported.

Rebooting negotiations

The junta has stayed silent on the opposition’s move but has been trying to convince journalists, with little success, that the chaos and destruction in the capital was caused by the activists.

Last week, DFCF activists set out conditions for restarting negotiations:

  • There should be an independent, international investigation into the 3 June massacre and other killings of activists
  • The RSF militia should return to barracks
  • The junta should release all political prisoners
  • Both mobile and the Sudatel landline internet services should be restored

The RSF which drew most of its recruits from the Janjaweed militia in Darfur, is the dominant force in the capital where it has about 10,000 heavily armed fighters. Following last week’s massacre, there were reports of clashes between RSF fighters and soldiers from the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).

  • Some security sources say that junior officers opposed to the RSF action and supportive of the protestors were posted outside the capital.

Autocrats’ alliance

The U.S.’s Nagy is also due to meet both sides in the negotiations. The official U.S. line backs the African Union’s calls for a transfer to a civilian-led transitional authority by the end of this month.

  • But the main regional opposition to that plan comes from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, all key allies of the U.S.

The junta’s deadly attack on the main protest site in Khartoum followed a regional tour by its leader General Abdel Fatteh Burhan and deputy Hemeti to see Egypt’s Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi,  Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman and UAE’s Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed.

How Nagy and other US diplomats can reconcile Washington’s position with its autocratic allies is an open question. Last week the State Department released a note of a conversation on Sudan between its Under Secretary for Political Affairs and officials in Riyadh.

That prompted, still more unusually, a release from Saudi’s press agency about “concerns about Sudan” and urging “renewed dialogue.”

Bottom line: Without progress towards a civilian-led transition, the crisis will worsen, triggering fights between rival security factions

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