On the eve of the final round of negotiations between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Alliance of Freedom and Change (AFC) in Sudan, sniper shots claimed the lives of eight teenage students in Al-Obeid, the capital of North Kordofan in west Sudan.
The bloody shootings were described as a massacre, as the students were killed while joining a peaceful protest. They were like a death sentence for the political negotiations that were approaching the final accord, observers said.
Angry and in anguish, many Sudanese protested in Khartoum against the shootings. Earlier, hopes had been high for peace after the AFC had reached an agreement with the Sudanese Revolutionary Front in Addis Ababa and the TMC had mended fences with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Juba.
Political parties and armed movements blamed the TMC and security apparatus for the Al-Obeid massacre, amid fears that the incident could affect the course of the negotiations.
The AFC, however, said it would continue negotiations with the TMC, insisting on a speedy investigation into Monday’s shootings. It also requested the TMC to quickly sign the country’s constitutional declaration.
The security committee of North Kordofan announced the suspension of schools and imposed a state of emergency after the incident. The governor said that “demonstrations after the Al-Obeid shootings turned into riots. We have formed a fact-finding committee, but we have not yet identified the shooters.”
The Sudanese Congress Party said that “innocent Sudanese are bearing the brunt of the present constitutional vacuum. Crimes of this sort will not cease unless power is immediately transferred to a civilian authority.”
Mohamed Hussein Sharaf, a leading figure in the Justice and Equality Movement in Darfur, wondered who stood to benefit from the shootings and the ensuing protests, asking whether the goal was to halt the agreement between the TMC and the AFC.
Local sources said that Islamist militias had been responsible for the massacre. They said that extremist organisations had had the money and weapons necessary to execute the attacks and that no political agreement would see the light until the militants were arrested and tried.
The same sources said students and teachers loyal to the former regime had used the bread shortage in Al-Obeid to incite the students to go out onto the streets, forcing some of those who did not want to go to participate.
The sources said the crime scene had been “prepared ahead of time” in order to create frictions between residents and the Rapid Security Forces (RSF).
Leading the protests were Islamist activists and students from Kordofan University loyal to the ousted regime of former president Omar Al-Bashir, local sources said, adding that the AFC had not understood that a conspiracy was being created.
Days earlier, demonstrations spread across Sudan in response to a report from the investigating committee formed by the Sudanese prosecutor-general looking into the violent dispersal of the sit-in in front of the army headquarters in Khartoum on 3 June.
The report exonerated the TMC and the security and intelligence apparatuses from being responsible for the crackdown.
The committee blamed two officers for mobilising an anti-riot force affiliated to the RSF. This force had stormed into the sit-in and had attacked the protesters. A third officer had participated in the violent crackdown along with a task force that had beaten the protesters, the report said.
The committee added that 87 people had been killed from 3 to 6 June, including 17 who had died in the sit-in area. More investigations would be conducted as legal proceedings had been taken against eight military personnel under Article 186 of the criminal law for committing crimes against humanity, it said.
The findings evoked angry reactions on the part of many Sudanese, who demanded that a separate investigation be conducted into the dispersal.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) also disregarded the findings of the report, saying that the prosecutor-general had acted with the TMC in discussing a plan to disperse the crowds at the sit-in.
SPA Spokesperson Ismail Al-Tag said the report had “forged facts and undermined justice.” The Sudanese people together with the international community had been shocked when the report had referred to the deaths of 87 people when 130 people had been killed, Al-Tag said, adding that limiting the perpetrators to a few officers was “a mockery” of justice.
The AFC rejected the findings of the report, saying that the prosecutor-general who had formed the committee was biased, being one of the officials consulted on the dispersal.
A lawyer for the AFC, Al-Muizz Al-Hadra, said the only solution would be to form an independent investigating committee, while one of the AFC leaders, Mohamed Esmat Yehia, said the Sudanese people should reject the findings.
There was no alternative to an independent investigation into the crackdown on the sit-in to find the perpetrators, said Sudanese commentator Hassan Ahmed Al-Hassan. The prosecutor-general’s report was neither transparent nor professional, and it had avoided any mention of the brutal killings, he added.
The report was made public after the TMC foiled an attempted coup by Sudanese Islamists considered to be a warning sign to Sudan’s political parties, particularly the TMC and AFC, of how fragile the situation was in the country.
In the eyes of many observers, the coup attempt had made it more necessary than ever to reach an agreement and form a new government as early as possible and to stay vigilant regarding attempts by remnants from the toppled regime and the Islamists to disrupt the political process.
The TMC has already arrested a number of army leaders and others from the ousted regime for investigation. They include head of the Joint Chief of Staff Hashim Abdel-Muttalib, commander of the Armoured Corps Nasreddin Abdel-Fattah, commander of the Central Region Bahr Ahmed Bahr, and Al-Zubeir Mohamed Al-Hassan and Ali Korti, former Islamist ministers affiliated to the former ruling National Congress Party led by former president Al-Bashir.
The coup attempt has led to nationwide reactions, with many demanding that the TMC deal firmly with the conspirators.
Head of the National Umma Party Al-Sadik Al-Mahdi warned against attempts at disruption by counter-revolutionary forces, describing the coup attempt as the result of failures to reach a political agreement.
Al-Mahdi said elements loyal to the former regime had the money and weapons to disrupt the political process. “Sudan is at a crossroads. Installing a new government cannot be delayed any further. The new government should make its priority peace and the democratic transition,” he added.
Fayez Al-Sheikh Al-Selik, a Sudanese political analyst, said Islamist militias would likely continue to disrupt negotiations between the TMC and AFC in order not to lose the privileges they had enjoyed during the 30-year rule of Al-Bashir.
The TMC bore part of the responsibility for the recent coup attempts after it allowed remnants of the toppled regime access to the media and did not take the steps needed to secure the revolution, said legal expert Seif Al-Dawla Hamadna-Allah.
Mubarak Al-Fadil Al-Mahdi, head of the Umma Party, condemned the coup attempt and said the TMC should act further to bring members of the former regime to justice.
He also referred to the mistakes committed by the AFC, such as sidelining the political parties that had participated in the revolution and attempting to eliminate the TMC from the political scene.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Disrupting Sudan’s accord