KHARTOUM - The United Nations called for a probe into the killing of five schoolchildren at a Sudan rally as protesters piled on pressure on army rulers to transfer power ahead of talks on the country's transition Tuesday.
Protesters accused the feared paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces, headed by powerful General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, of shooting dead the five teenagers at a rally held against shortages of bread and fuel in the city of Al-Obeid on Monday.
The killings come as protest leaders are due to hold talks with the ruling generals on Tuesday on the remaining aspects of installing civilian rule after the two sides inked a power-sharing deal earlier this month.
The U.N. children's agency UNICEF called on the authorities "to investigate and hold all perpetrators of violence against children accountable".
"No child should be buried in their school uniform," it said in a statement, saying the students killed were between 15 and 17 years old.
Sudan's military ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Tuesday condemned the shootings as an "unacceptable crime", state television reported.
"What happened in Al-Obeid is sad. Killing peaceful civilians is an unacceptable crime that needs immediate accountability," state television quoted Burhan as telling a group of Sudanese journalists.
Authorities announced a night-time curfew in four towns in North Kordofan state following the deaths in Al-Obeid, as the main protest group, the Sudanese Professionals Association, called for nationwide rallies against the "massacre".
All schools in the state have been told to suspend classes.
"The Janjaweed forces and some snipers, without any mercy, confronted school students with live ammunition," the SPA said, referring to the RSF which has its origins in Arab militias that were originally deployed to suppress an ethnic minority rebellion that erupted in Sudan's western region of Darfur in 2003.
The SPA said more than 60 people have been wounded.
"The dead are children and that adds to the brutality of this cowardly incident," said a protest leader, Ismail al-Taj at a rally in Khartoum, as hundreds protested in the capital and its twin city of Omdurman on Monday.
Doctors linked to the protest movement say that more than 250 people have been killed in protest-related violence since December when demonstrations first erupted against now ousted president Omar al-Bashir.
Calls for suspending talks
Residents of Al-Obeid said the schoolchildren's rally had been over shortages of bread and fuel in the town.
It was a sudden tripling of bread prices that was the spark for the mushrooming protests that brought an end to Bashir's three decades of iron-fisted rule.
The teenagers' deaths prompted calls for Tuesday's planned talks to be suspended, as several protest leaders negotiating with the ruling generals had travelled to Al-Obeid.
"We cannot sit at the negotiating table with those allowing the killing of revolutionaries," Siddig Youssef, a prominent protest leader, said in a statement.
Tuesday's talks are to cover issues including the powers of the joint civilian-military ruling body, the deployment of security forces and immunity for generals over protest-related violence, according to protest leaders.
The power-sharing deal agreed on July 17 provided for the establishment of a new governing body of six civilians and five generals.
But the publication on Saturday of the findings of an investigation commissioned by the military into the deadly dispersal of a Khartoum protest camp has triggered angry demonstrations.
Shortly before dawn on June 3, gunmen in military fatigues raided the site of the weeks-long sit-in outside army headquarters, shooting and beating protesters.
Doctors linked to the protest movement say the raid left 127 people dead and scores wounded.
But the joint investigation by prosecutors and the ruling military council concluded that just 17 people were killed on June 3, with a total of 87 deaths between that day and June 10.
The probe identified eight officers involved in the crackdown on the protest camp, including three from the RSF.
Protest leaders have rejected the findings, saying the inquiry exonerated the military council 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", the SPA said.