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Sudan Transition Deal Delayed, Protesters March Against Talks

Protesters march during a rally marking the fourth anniversary of the April uprising, in Khartoum, Sudan, April 6, 2023.
Protesters march during a rally marking the fourth anniversary of the April uprising, in Khartoum, Sudan, April 6, 2023.

The head of Sudan's army said on Thursday he remained committed to a plan for a new transition toward elections, despite disputes over the integration of a paramilitary force that have twice delayed the signing of a final deal.

The agreement, which provides for the formation of a civilian government and is strongly supported by the international community, is meant to end the political vacuum that followed the October 2021 coup.

But the signing was postponed for a second time late on Wednesday as the army and the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continued negotiations over what commitments they would make on military restructuring.

The agreement faces opposition from pro-democracy "resistance committees" that reject negotiations with the military and have led anti-military protests since the coup, which derailed a previous political transition.

They held the largest mass demonstrations seen this year across Sudan on Thursday to mark the fourth anniversary of a 2019 sit-in that led to the overthrow of longtime autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir.

Tensions between the army and the RSF have come to the surface in recent weeks over the proposed timeline for integration of the RSF into the military, political and military sources say. The army wants two years, while the RSF says that 10 years are required and that restructuring should include internal reform within the army, according to the sources.

'Sowing discord'

Also at issue is the interim leadership of the military. The RSF has suggested that the incoming civilian head of state under the deal be included in a joint council of army and RSF generals.

In a statement commemorating the April 6 sit-in anniversary, army chief and Sovereign Council head General Abdel Fattah Burhan said he remained committed to the political process and that the delay was needed to "lay solid frameworks that preserve the momentum of the revolution."

In a separate statement, RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo said he was also committed to coming to a final deal.

Protesters could be heard chanting "no militia can rule a country" in central Khartoum. Huge crowds blocked main roads and marched in several cities, facing heavy tear gas fired by the security forces. Many were seen breaking their Ramadan fasts in the street, according to Reuters reporters.

"Our stance of 'no partnership, no negotiation, no legitimacy' has been proven by ... the roadblocks placed by the putschists who want to cling on to total power. Everything they're saying now is just tactics," said activist Jaafar Khidir.

The Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), a coalition of civilian parties that back the deal, blamed the postponement on elements of Bashir's outlawed National Congress Party, who in recent weeks have made public appearances at Ramadan banquets and other events.

"We know that elements of the deposed regime are actively trying to spoil the political process and sow discord between military institutions," prominent civilian politician and FFC leader Khalid Omer Yousif told Reuters.

In a statement, the FFC said that while it was committed to the talks, "if they are stymied ... we will also develop alternative options."

Tribal leaders who say they feel excluded from the planned deal have threatened to block roads into Khartoum and in eastern Sudan, while rebel groups that supported the coup have warned of "chaos" if it goes ahead.

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