Khartoum/London — After troops launched a deadly night-time raid on Sudan’s pro-democracy protesters, blame immediately focused on the Rapid Support Forces. The notorious paramilitary unit, made up of remnants of a militia that wreaked havoc in war-torn Darfur in the 2000s, had led the June 3 assault, victims said. Demonstrators were beaten, shot and raped. The bodies of dozens of the 100 people killed — according to local estimates — were tossed into the Nile.

The crackdown suggested the country’s military leaders, who have ruled since the protests triggered a coup against Omar al-Bashir in April, were sending a deadly message that they would not bow to popular pressure and accept a transition to civilian rule. But it was not just the RSF and the generals who faced scrutiny: as the body count mounted, attention intensified on their regional backers — Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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