UN pulls staff from Sudan amid growing global concern

African Union to hold emergency meeting as death toll continues to rise following military crackdown on protesters.

The United Nations will pull staff out of Sudan as the African Union (AU) holds an emergency meeting after the violent dispersal of a protest camp in the capital killed dozens of people.

The UN plans to relocate some personnel because of the violence but will have “critical” members in the country, its spokeswoman Farhan Haq said on Wednesday. 

“What we are doing is temporarily relocating some of the staff from Sudan. There will still be some staff on hand to perform critical functions but because of security some … are being relocated temporarily,” said Haq.

According to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, at least 108 people have been killed and more than 500 wounded after security forces opened fire on Monday to clear demonstrators from their site in downtown Khartoum, which they had occupied for weeks demanding civilian rule after autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir was deposed in April.

The committe said 40 bodies were pulled from the Nile River on Tuesday and taken to an unknown location by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The Transitional Military Council (TMC) ruling Sudan since overthrowing al-Bashir hasn’t commented on the allegations.

On Thursday, Reuters news agency cited a health official as saying the death toll did not exceed 61.

Al Jazeera is unable to independently confirm the differing tolls after its journalists were ordered not to report from the country. 

Sudan’s journalist organistion, meanwhile, criticised some media coverage of the bloodshed.  

Sudan’s pro-democracy leaders vowed to press ahead their campaign of civil disobedience until the TMC is removed and killers of protesters are brought to justice.

The Sudanese Professionals Association asked people to block main roads and bridges on Thursday to “paralyse public life” across the country in retaliation for the military’s crackdown.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and deputy head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) delivers an address after the Ramadan prayers and Iftar organized by Su
General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and deputy head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) delivers an address after the Ramadan prayers and Iftar organized by Sultan of Darfur Ahmed Hussain in Khartoum, Sudan May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Speaking about the TMC’s hard-line approach, political analyst Joseph Ochieno told Al Jazeera it was unclear what the ruling generals were trying to achieve with their violent response. 

“If it is a way to negotiate … in this day and age, it is rather unusual,” said Ochieno. “If part of their trips to Saudi Arabia and Egypt were to show power and intimidate the opposition, they have actually galvanised the entire of Sudan,” he said.

“Some of these guys have extensions to the genocide in Darfur. They thought perhaps the old system of general intimidation and use of excess power and violence – to which they subjected the people of Sudan elsewhere – could be attempted in the streets of Khartoum in broad daylight.”

The RSF, accused of dispersing the protest camp with gunfire, grew out of the Janjaweed militia that human rights groups accuse of committing war crimes – including killings, rape and torture of civilians – in Sudan’s western region of Darfur after the outbreak of conflict there in 2003. 

Global concern

Commenting on the AU emergency meeting on Thursday, Ochieno said: “At the moment, considering the nature of the carnage, any pressure or meeting is important, but it is coming rather late for the AU to be doing so today. They should have come up much strongly perhaps a week ago.

“Let’s hope they will come out with a message to the junta in Khartoum that while they played in Darfur and got away with it, it is very unlikely that they will be doing so today.”

On Monday, the AU Commission Chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called for an “immediate and transparent investigation in order to hold all those responsible accountable” for the killings.

Faki also called on the TMC to protect civilians from further harm.

Washington called on Sudan’s military rulers to “desist from violence” and urged talks with protesters to resume.

“The United States condemns the recent attacks on protesters in Sudan,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Wednesday.

Russia said on Thursday it opposed foreign intervention in Sudan and the authorities in Khartoum must subdue what it described as “extremists”, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted as saying Moscow favoured a national dialogue about a transition period leading to new elections.

“Naturally, in order to do that, you need for order to be imposed, and you need to fight against extremists and provocateurs who don’t want the stabilisation of the situation,” RIA quoted Bogdanov as saying. “That’s the situation right now, but we are against any external intervention, the imposition of anything on the Sudanese.”

He did not identify which groups he considered to be extremists and provocateurs.

Ochieno said competing global interests may be at play in Sudan.

“It is very clear that the US allies in the region, particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have influenced the change of tone and direction by the junta in Sudan,” he said.

“Maybe the most the US can do is to tell its allies to tell those guys to calm down, but also to directly intervene and tell them that if they continue to do what they’ve done in the past few days, they’ll face the consequences.”

Call for talks

The raid on Monday marked a pivotal moment in the weeks-long struggle between the powerful TMC and opposition groups over who should lead Sudan’s transition to democracy following the removal of al-Bashir.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of TMC, said it was ready to resume negotiations with the opposition coalition.

But the opposition rejected the offer, saying the military could not be trusted.

David Shinn, a former senior US diplomat in Sudan, said the prospect for talks was dim as long as the violence continued. 

“You cannot have successful negotiations between the protest groups and the military so long as the security forces are killing fellow Sudanese. This has to stop. Until it does, I don’t see any prospect for meaningful negotiations,” he told Al Jazeera. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies