Talks aiming to end Sudan’s ongoing political deadlock have begun, the United Nations said, although the country’s main pro-democracy alliance is boycotting them over a continued police crackdown on those protesting against last October’s military coup.
The joint peace effort, which started Wednesday, is brokered by the UN political mission in Sudan, the African Union, and the eight-nation east African group Intergovernmental Authority in Development (IGAD).
The effort aims to bring the generals and an array of political and protest groups to the negotiating table.
The military’s takeover upended Sudan’s short-lived fragile democratic transition and plunged the East African nation into turmoil.
Sudan had been transitioning to democracy after nearly three decades of repression and international isolation under President Omar al-Bashir, who was forced to resign after a popular uprising in April 2019.
The UN, AU and IGAD launched the process with a technical meeting involving the military and civilians. It came after months of separate discussions with groups including the military and the pro-democracy movement.
The UN envoy for Sudan, Volker Perthes, said the process would discuss a “transitional programme”, including the appointment of a civilian prime minister and arrangements for drafting a permanent constitution and elections at the end of the transition.
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the coup who also heads the ruling sovereign council, welcomed the talks as a “historic opportunity to complete the transitional phase”.
In a speech to the nation late on Tuesday, he urged all factions to take part in the talks, vowing that the military would implement their outcome.
“We are fully committed to work with everybody to end the transitional period as soon as possible with fair and transparent elections,” he said.
However, the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, or FDFC – an alliance of political parties and protest groups – is boycotting the meeting. FDFC was part of the umbrella group instrumental in al-Bashir’s overthrow in 2019.
They say the talks should lead to “an end to the coup and the establishment of a civilian democratic authority”.
They also criticised the participation of pro-military and other political groups who had been allied with al-Bashir’s government.
The alliance also called for the implementation of trust-building measures, including the release of coup-related detainees, and the end of violence against protesters.
The talks come as the violent crackdown on anti-coup protests continued in the capital, Khartoum.
A five-year-old was killed on Tuesday when a police vehicle ran her over while chasing protesters.
That brought the total deaths among protesters since October to at least 101, according to a medical group tracking the casualties.
The October 25 military coup toppled the civilian transitional administration and derailed the country’s brief transition to democracy, destroying the little faith civil society groups had in the national probe into the killing of protesters.
The coup also triggered near-daily street protests, which authorities have met with a deadly crackdown.
Hundreds of people, including prominent politicians and activists, have been detained since the coup, although many have been released recently as part of trust-building measures.
The military takeover also triggered widespread international condemnation and punitive measures, including crucial aid cuts by Western governments pending the resumption of the transition to civilian rule.
Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries, is also struggling with an economy in decline due to decades of international isolation and mismanagement under al-Bashir.
Under concerted international pressure, the military leaders late last month lifted the state of emergency they had declared following the coup.