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Sudan's Military Sidesteps Proposal for Civilian Rule

A protester flashes the victory sign, as others block a road during a protest, in Khartoum, Sudan, June 24, 2019.
A protester flashes the victory sign, as others block a road during a protest, in Khartoum, Sudan, June 24, 2019.

Sudan's military rulers refused to agree on Monday to the Ethiopian proposal for a power-sharing agreement with the country's pro-democracy movement, a top general said, in comments that could worsen a volatile standoff with the protesters.

Ethiopia has led diplomatic efforts to bring the military and protest leaders back to the negotiating table, after a deadly crackdown by security forces killed at least 128 people across the country earlier this month, according to protest organizers. Sudanese authorities offered a lower toll of 61 deaths.

Protest leaders, represented by the coalition Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, had accepted the Ethiopian initiative the day before. It centered on forming a transitional government — a so-called "sovereign council" — with a civilian majority to rule Sudan, over two months after the protesters forced the military to remove the autocrat Omar al-Bashir from power.

But on Monday, the powerful deputy head of the military council, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, said the mission of the Ethiopian envoy, Mahmoud Dirir, was to pave the way for resuming talks with the FDFC, "not to offer proposals for solutions."

"The mission of the Ethiopian mediator was limited to prepare the parties for negotiations. We did not agree on shares in the sovereign council. We do not accept prescriptions," he said.

Dagalo, better known as Hemedti , said the ruling military council did not oppose civilian participation in the future sovereign council — or that the FDFC might form the government. He added that the transitional legislative body "should be (formed) through elections."

He also said the military council decided to release all detained rebels, to pave the way for peace talks with rebel groups in the provinces.

Dagalo is the leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias. The RSF led a violent campaign against insurgents in Darfur — and now stands accused of involvement in protester deaths in Sudan's main cities.

In a press conference on Sunday, the military council had said the previous deals with the protest leaders were invalid, given the changes on the ground in Sudan since talks collapsed in May.

A spokesman for the council, Gen. Shams Eddin Kabashi, said: "The circumstances in which we reached such understandings ... are not the same."

Previously, both sides had agreed on an interim legislative body and Cabinet formed by the protesters. They had still not reached agreement on the extent of the military's role in the planned sovereign council, which would guide the nation throughout the three-year transition period, when security forces launched the deadly clampdown on June 3.

The movement has since tried different tactics — including a short-lived nationwide strike, and nighttime marches to keep up pressure on the military.

Ismail al-Tag, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals' Association which is a member of the FDFC, called on Monday for marches next week demanding the handover of power to civilians. The demonstrations are planned to mark the 30th anniversary of the Islamist-backed coup that brought al-Bashir's to power in 1989 — and toppled Sudan's last elected government.

Meanwhile on Monday, police forces used tear gas to disperse dozens of protesters in the capital, Khartoum.

The clashes broke out in the district of Buri — a stronghold of the protest movement. Demonstrators hurled stones at police before fleeing inside the National Ribat University campus. An Associated Press photographer saw officers arresting a number of people, before taking them blindfolded into police trucks.

The FDFC had called on Sunday for trust-building measures from the military before resuming talks. These included a demand for an independent investigation into the violence on June 3. It had also demanded that the military-backed authorities restore the country's severed internet services.

On Monday, the United Nations' human rights chief said the military council had not responded to a request for cooperation with its office for investigating alleged human rights crimes, including the rape and sexual abuse of both women and men, in the deaths of protesters.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also urged authorities to "immediately" restore internet connections.

Amany el-Taweel, head of the African program at al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Egypt, said the military canceling previous deals with the protest leaders boded badly for the situation in Sudan.

"We are back to square one," she said.

She said the military had been exploiting time, as the number of the street protests has fallen.