Sudanese parties agree to resume talks as US envoy joins diplomatic push
The bloodshed in Sudan has prompted concern from world powers including the US, which sanctioned Sudan under former president Omar al-Bashir
Khartoum — The top US diplomat for Africa was due in Khartoum on Wednesday to join an international push to salvage a deal between Sudan’s military rulers and opposition groups two months after the overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir.
The visit comes after an Ethiopian envoy said the governing transitional military council and an alliance of protest and opposition groups had agreed to resume talks and the alliance suspended a three-day strike.
Stalled talks over who should control a three-year transition towards elections collapsed after a June 3 raid on a protest sit-in that left dozens dead.
The bloodshed in Sudan has prompted concern from world powers including the US, which sanctioned Sudan under Bashir over its alleged support for militant groups and the civil war in Darfur.
Trade sanctions were lifted in 2017 but Sudan is still on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, which prevents it from accessing badly needed funding from international lenders. Washington previously said it will not take Sudan off the list while the military remains in power.
Stability in the nation of 40-million is crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya.
The military council has been bolstered by support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which between them have offered $3bn in aid.
“The current detente in Sudan calls for optimism and we call for the establishment of an agreement that will drive the transitional phase through a real and stable partnership,” UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter.
He also praised the role of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who flew to Khartoum last week on a mediation mission and is expected to return this week.
Tibor Nagy, the US assistant secretary of state for Africa, will meet the military council and the opposition to call for an end to violence against civilians and push for the resumption of talks, according to the state department.
The crackdown from June 3 led to at least 118 deaths, according to opposition-linked medics. The government has confirmed 61 deaths, including three security personnel.
Talks were already deadlocked before the crackdown as the two sides struggled to agree on the make-up of a sovereign council that will oversee the transition.
In Khartoum, employees returned to work on Wednesday and store owners opened their shops, after the alliance of protesters and opposition groups suspended a three-day campaign of strikes and civil disobedience.
Many people lined up outside ATMs and banks that had closed first for the Eid holiday at the start of June and then because of the strike.
Sudan is still suffering an internet outage. Some side streets that had been closed by protesters were still partially blocked by remnants of barricades. Rubbish bins not emptied for days were overflowing.
Meanwhile, AFP reports that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have warned UN peacekeepers against withdrawing from Sudan at a time when the Janjaweed militia is not only keeping up war crimes in Darfur but also taking its “despicable brutality” to Khartoum.
“Its hard to imagine a worse time to decide to close Unamid [UN-African Union Mission in Darfur], said Jonathan Loeb, a senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International.
As a June 27 vote on whether to wind down Unamid nears, Amnesty said it had “new evidence, including satellite imagery, showing that Sudanese government forces, including the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias, have continued to commit war crimes in Darfur”.
“These have included the complete or partial destruction of at least 45 villages, unlawful killings, and sexual violence,” the rights group said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
The RSF, formed from the former Janjaweed militia, were also responsible for the June 3 crackdown on protesters in Khartoum that killed dozens, Amnesty said.
“In Darfur, as in Khartoum, we’ve witnessed the Rapid Support Forces’ despicable brutality against Sudanese civilians,” it said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a separate statement, said: “Instead of giving a green light to a continued drawdown of Unamid, the [UN] Security Council should focus on preserving the mission’s capabilities to protect civilians and monitor human rights abuses.”
Amnesty secretary-general Kumi Naidoo urged Sudan’s military council to “immediately withdraw the RSF from any policing and law enforcement operations, especially in Khartoum and Darfur”.
A doctors’ committee linked to Sudan’s protest movement said the Janjaweed had shot dead nine villagers in Central Darfur state on Monday.
The Janjaweed were first recruited when Khartoum trained and equipped Arab raiders to crush an ethnic minority rebellion in the vast western region of Darfur that erupted in 2003.
The UN says the conflict left more than 300,000 people dead and 2.5-million displaced. The violence in Darfur has substantially reduced over the years, and the Janjaweed have been absorbed in the RSF, headed by Mohamed Hemeti Dagalo, the deputy chief of the military council that ousted Bashir in April.
“Sudan’s political instability inevitably has an impact on Darfur, especially given the rise of Hemeti and shocking news that [Unamid] mission assets are going to his forces, despite the RSF’s long track record of abuses,” said Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“The RSF needs to be investigated for its abuses, not given tasks it’s unfit for,” Henry said.
Following Bashir’s removal, protesters camped outside military headquarters in central Khartoum for weeks to demand civilian rule before they were violently dispersed last week.
“The case against closing Unamid has been made even stronger” by the crackdown in the capital, said Amnesty.
“A decision to remove the last remaining peacekeepers from Darfur at this time would reveal a shocking lack of understanding about the current reality in Sudan,” said Loeb.