Sudan military denies coup as soldiers take to the streets

Military spokesman says deployment is 'routine' but heightened alert is reported at capital's three air bases

Soldiers patrol the street in Khartoum in January, but the military presence has returned to the capital. Reuters

Thousands of soldiers marching through the streets of the Sudanese capital’s twin city of Omdurman were part of a “routine deployment,” a military spokesman told The National after reports of a potential coup taking place.

Videos posted online showed the troops marching in formation, clad in dark green and camouflage fatigues on the streets of Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman on Thursday. A column of pickups and armoured vehicles fitted with machine guns followed them.

The spokesman did not comment on reports that three air bases were placed on high alert.

However, he rejected there was a coup. The military later said the soldiers were part of the 9th Airborne Division who were marching as part of a scheduled training drill.

It is uncommon for soldiers in Sudan to parade on the streets of the capital outside major national holidays, like Independence Day, celebrated on January 1.

The reports of a coup come just five months after Sudan’s military seized power, dismissing a civilian-led government and upending the country’s democratic transition that came after dictator Omar Al Bashir was ousted in 2019. That coup came one month after authorities said another one was foiled.

Sudan is notorious for military coups, with around a dozen taking place since independence in 1956. The Nile-side capital Khartoum is also often rife with rumours about attempted military coups, feeding instability and reflecting divisions within the ranks.

The military has ruled Sudan for 50 of those 66 years, invariably ending the short-live rule of democratically-elected governments.

Thursday's show of force in Omdurman comes as the country reels from the October 25 military takeover by a deepening economic crisis and bouts of violence in the restive Darfur region.

Over the past week, Sudan has raised local fuel prices, lifting the gasoline price to 547 Sudanese pounds ($1.23) per litre from 415 pounds. Diesel prices were also hiked to 507 pounds per litre.

Past fuel price hikes have led to an increases in the price of food and transport.

The country has also sought to unify the exchange rate of the Sudanese pound, whose value has steadily retreated against the US dollar since the October coup. The move was strongly condemned by western powers and led to the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of foreign aid.

The exchange rate stood at around 570 pounds to the dollar on the eve of the coup, when the value of the local currency began its fall. It traded at 600 pounds on Thursday, up from 526 on Wednesday.

Tribal clashes this week between Arabs and non-Arabs in Darfur killed at least 16 people, according to a Sudanese medical group.

The violence erupted in the town of Jebel Moon in West Darfur province, which was the scene of deadly tribal violence in recent months, according to the Sudan Doctors Committee, an authoritative medical group aligned with Sudan's pro-democracy movement.

At least 16 others were wounded, it said.

Clashes in Jebel Moon first erupted in mid-November over a land dispute between Arab and non-Arab tribes.

Dozens have been killed since then and authorities have deployed more troops to the area. Sporadic fighting has continued, however.

The Darfur conflict broke out when rebels from the region's ethnic central and sub-Saharan African communities started an insurgency in 2003, complaining of oppression by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

Al Bashir’s government responded with a campaign of aerial bombings and raids by the janjaweed, a militia that has been accused of mass killings and rapes. Up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million were driven from their homes in Darfur over the years.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Updated: March 10, 2022, 12:23 PM