Sudan's government tries to defuse tensions after city clashes

Violence in Port Sudan leaves five dead and creates more instability for an already troubled transitional government

FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2019 file photo, Sudan's new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok speaks during a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan. Sudan's newly appointed prime minister is launching an independent investigation into the deadly crackdown on protesters earlier in June. Hamdok said late Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, that the seven-member committee includes a top judge, an independent figure and two attorneys. (AP Photo, File)

Sudan's government sent a high-level delegation to the country’s Red Sea city of Port Sudan on Sunday in a bid to defuse tribal tensions that led to the death of at least five people at the weekend.

The decision to send the delegation, led by the interior minister, was taken during an emergency Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to review the security situation in the city.

Port Sudan, which is the country's main seaport, is notorious for tribal tensions that frequently spill over into violence. The unrest there is part of a wave of street violence that has beset much of Sudan in recent months, placing an additional burden on the country’s shift to democratic rule and fuelling differences between the military and civilian components of the transitional government.

The violence in Port Sudan began on Saturday morning when a fight broke out on a communal taxi in which one man was beaten to death. The family of the deceased later blocked traffic, firing in the air. Two people suffered gunshot wounds. A lorry and a motorised rickshaw were also torched by the dead man's relatives, according to the country’s official news agency, Suna.

Later in the evening, two grenades were thrown at a social club at the city centre, killing three men and a woman. Three people were hurt. The perpetrator was arrested, Suna reported. Another grenade was thrown at a hotel, also at the heart of the city, but no one was hurt.

Port Sudan is in the country’s eastern region, home to the Beja ethnic group that has long been agitating for an end to perceived marginalisation.

The city has also experienced repeated clashes in recent months between Arab tribesmen and ethnic Africans from the Nuba mountains in western Sudan who have migrated to Port Sudan for better economic opportunities.

Last year, at least 25 people were killed and about 90 others were wounded in clashes between Arabs and the Nuba.

Sudan has been beset by ethnic and religious strife for much of the 65 years since its independence in 1956, with civil wars raging for years in its southern and western regions.

The transitional administration that took charge after dictator Omar Al Bashir’s regime fell in 2019 has declared ending rebellions in the south and west to be a top priority.

Last October, it signed a peace deal with a host of small and mostly ineffective rebel groups from the south and west. It has yet to reach similar agreements with the larger groups that control large amounts of territory and retain a significant number of armed men.

Updated: July 11th 2021, 5:47 PM