Khartoum heats up

Haitham Nouri , Wednesday 15 May 2019

Violence and accusations hit Sudan’s capital as negotiations between the transitional military command and protesters continue to be bogged down on key details

Sudanese protesters
Sudanese men hold up bullet casings at the protest outside the army headquarters in the capital Khartoum on May 14, 2019 (Photo: AFP)

Monday night was the most violent for Sudanese protesters since the departure of former president Omar Al-Bashir. Several were killed and dozens injured when authorities attempted to disperse the sit-in outside the headquarters of the army general command, even though both sides announced they had reached an agreement on the power structure in the transitional phase.

The sit-in located in the centre of the capital, Khartoum, witnessed violent clashes that resulted in the death of one policeman and three protesters at the hands of “armed groups that did not like progress on a political deal” between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the opposition Freedom and Change Forces (FCF), according to military Spokesman Lieutenant General Shamsuddin Kabashi.

Accusations flew among activists, blaming the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army for “attempts to disperse the sit-in”.

The week in Sudan began with important developments, including reopening a main thoroughfare that protesters had blocked, a round of talks between the military council and protest leaders, and an admission of financial crimes by the ousted president.

By midday on Monday, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the police reopened Nile Street, which is a main artery crossing the capital, after it was blocked by protesters for an entire day.

According to eyewitnesses quoted by Reuters, government forces used tear gas to disperse demonstrators, who headed to Nile Street because they were prevented from reaching the main sit-in outside the army general command the day before.

Shamsuddin Kabashi Ibrahim, spokesman for the TMC, said the council considers “blocking roads as unacceptable” because it “causes chaos and makes life difficult for citizens”. At the same time, he said, the TMC does not intend to disperse the sit-in outside army command that began 6 April.

The RSF are para-government forces that include armed members of Arab tribes in Darfur that are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in that province, where a civil war has been raging since 2003.

Some observers believe the RSF is an evolution of the Janjaweed that has a bad reputation in Darfur.

The RSF are currently led by Mohamed Hassan Dagalo (aka Hemeti) who is a lieutenant general and interim military vice president.

Azaz Al-Shami, a Sudanese journalist, said that RSF “has no legal mandate to engage with citizens, arrest or interrogate them”.

She continued: “The legal status of these forces must be defined since they are not part of the armed forces.If they are necessary in a specific province then their mission must be clearly defined, which is common practice since Sudanese law defines the role of the army, police, prosecutor general and judiciary. Why are they beyond the law?”

Meanwhile, Sudan’s Al-Jareeda newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying that ousted president Al-Bashir has pled guilty to charges of financial corruption, violating foreign currency laws and money laundering.

The source told the newspaper that Bashir appeared to be distraught during interrogation, commenting on his ouster by saying: “There is no doubt that during 30 years in power there must have been victims and their prayers have been answered.”

Authorities in Khartoum found seven million Euros in Al-Bashir’s home, as well as $350 million and five million Sudanese pounds, which is currently being investigated.

AFP news agency reported that an unnamed source in Al-Bashir’s family said they hired four lawyers, including former parliament speaker Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Taher and two former ministers of defense, Abdel-Basset Sobdarat and Omar Abdel-Ati, to defend the former president if he goes to court.

The source said some 50 lawyers offered to defend Al-Bashir.

Khaled Mahmoud, a researcher in Sudanese affairs, said Al-Bashir’s financial crimes pale in comparison to his political crimes, beginning with the military coup of 1989.

The general prosecutor agreed to interrogate Al-Bashir about the coup that brought him to power with the support of the Islamist movement led by the late Hassan Al-Turabi.

“The coup aborted the peace initiative proposed by the leader of the unionists, Othman Al-Mirghani and southern leader John Garang in 1988, even though all other parties agreed to it except the Islamist Front,” said Mahmoud. “Islamists took over power and tensions rose, and the war escalated until it ended in the secession of South Sudan in 2011.”

Al-Bashir is the second Sudanese ruler to be prosecuted after late president Jaafa Numeiri who was sentenced to death in 1988. Al-Bashir himself issued a pardon for Numeiri that enabled him to return to Khartoum and live there until his death.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) wants Al-Bashir to face charges that he is the “mastermind” of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, where the UN estimates 300,000 were killed, although the government counters that no more than 10,000 were killed. “Of course, I hope Sudan’s judiciary, prosecutors and investigators could prosecute everyone who committed a crime, but I think it would be difficult,” Kamal Al-Jazuli, a Sudanese lawyer in the opposition, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Sudan’s judicial system is divided between supporters and opponents of Al-Bashir. The TMC dismissed the chief justice under pressure from protesters, and more than 100 judges joined demonstrators in support of the people’s demands.

Nonetheless, Al-Jazuli noted that hundreds of Islamist judges were appointed over the past 30 years under Al-Bashir’s rule.

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the TMC said the council has reached an agreement with the opposition on the specifics of governing structures during the interim period, but they have not yet decided how long that period will be or the make-up of the transitional structures.

Striking a balance between military and civilian components and the duration of the transitional period are major sticking points in talks between TMC and the coalition of protesters and opposition since Al-Bashir was overthrown 11 April.

Kabashi and Othman Taha, spokesmen for the opposition FCF coalition, said these two issues will be addressed Tuesday.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Khartoum heats up  

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