The United Nations mission in Sudan said it was starting consultations on Monday with the goal of launching direct negotiations to resolve the country’s political crisis after an October coup.
The military takeover derailed a transition towards elections in which the army had agreed to share power with civilian groups following the overthrow of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir in a 2019 uprising.
It also halted an economic opening in which Sudan began to emerge from decades of isolation and sanctions. A crackdown by security forces on frequent mass protests since the coup has left more than 60 civilians dead and many more injured.
The initial talks entail broad individual consultations aimed at moving to a second phase of direct or indirect negotiations between different players, UN special representative Volker Perthes told a news conference in Khartoum on Monday.
“We want to move quickly … We are starting this afternoon with the first group from civil society. We will have every day a mix of stakeholders we are talking to,” he said.
It would be tricky to set a timeframe for starting negotiations, Perthes added. “Time is precious, we know that. There’s a lot of pressure on the situation in Sudan and on us.”
Unless a new course for the transition and a path to credible elections is found, Sudan’s economic plight could worsen and instability could spread inside and outside its borders, analysts and diplomats say.
“I do hope that these consultations can become something like a confidence-building measure and would help to at least reduce the violence,” Perthes said.
The UN envoy said there has been “no objection” from the military institutions. But the initial response from key civilian factions was lukewarm.
“We have yet to receive any details about the UN initiative,” said Jaafar Hassan, a spokesman for the mainstream faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change, the leading civilian pro-democracy group.
“We are willing to take part in the talks on condition that the purpose is to resume the democratic transition and remove the coup regime, but we are against it if these talks seek to legitimise the coup regime,” he told the AFP news agency on Monday.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, another key civilian faction, had said on Sunday that it completely rejected the UN-facilitated talks.