Sudan‘s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) has condemned the killing of five schoolchildren at a rally as protest leaders called off planned talks with the generals and thousands of students took to the streets to denounce the latest bout of violence.
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of TMC, told reporters on Tuesday the killings in the North Kordofan city of El-Obeid was “unacceptable”.
“What happened in El-Obeid is a regrettable and upsetting matter and the killing of peaceful citizens is unacceptable and rejected and a crime that requires immediate and deterrent accountability,” he was quoted as saying by the official SUNA news agency.
Protesters accuse the feared Rapid Support Forces (RSF), headed by al-Burhan’s deputy – General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, of shooting dead the five teenagers at Monday’s rally against shortages of bread and fuel.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF, in a statement on Tuesday, called on Sudanese authorities “to investigate and hold all perpetrators of violence against children accountable”.
“No child should be buried in their school uniform,” the agency said, adding the students killed were aged between 15 and 17 years.
The killings came before planned talks between the TMC and protest leaders on the remaining aspects of installing civilian rule following the toppling of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April.
The two sides signed a power-sharing agreement on July 17, and were to sit down on Tuesday to discuss the powers of the proposed joint civilian-military ruling council and immunity for generals over previous deadly violence against protesters.
But negotiators for the Forces of Freedom and Change alliance, the umbrella group that represents protest and opposition groups, told AFP news agency that Tuesday’s talks would not take place because they were visiting El-Obeid.
“There will be no negotiation today with the Transitional Military Council as our negotiating team is still in El-Obeid and will return only tonight,” said Satea al-Haj, a member of the alliance.
Meanwhile, thousands of students – heeding a call for nationwide protests against the El-Obeid “massacre” by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) – rallied in Khartoum and other cities to condemn the violence against their fellow students.
The SPA, which spearheaded the protests against al-Bashir, also called on all schools in North Kordofan state to suspend classes.
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Addis Ababa in neighbouring Ethiopia, said there was a lot of anger and condemnation on the streets of the capital, Khartoum, because of the renewed violence in El-Obeid.
“But [the protesters] are also condemning the silence of the opposition coalition Forces of Freedom and Change… The protesters are saying these talks have not yielded any results and they’ve been going on for three months.
“People are saying at the moment negotiations are not the way and that what the opposition should focus on is demanding justice and accountability.”
Earlier on Tuesday, a prominent protest leader called for the talks to be suspended.
“We cannot sit at the negotiating table with those allowing the killing of revolutionaries,” Siddig Youssef said in a statement.
Doctors linked to the protest movement say more than 250 people have been killed in protest-related violence since December, when demonstrations first erupted against al-Bashir. More than 100 were killed during and after an RSF raid on a sit-in outside the military headquarters on June 3, they said.
But a joint investigation by prosecutors and the TMC concluded just 17 people were killed on June 3, with a total of 87 deaths between that day and June 10.
Protest leaders rejected the findings, saying the inquiry exonerated the TMC and gave a far lower death toll than their own.
The investigation “was commissioned by the military council … [but] the military council itself is accused in this case”, SPA said.