Sudan's pro-democracy groups reject calls to drop boycott of UN-sponsored talks

UN-led trio pushing for the talks say the process cannot succeed if boycott continues

Sudanese men burn tires during a demonstration to commemorate the third anniversary of a deadly crackdown carried out by security forces on protesters in Khartoum, on June 3. AP Photo
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Pro-democracy groups and political parties have rejected pleas to end their boycott of direct negotiations between Sudan’s stakeholders on ending the political crisis embroiling the Afro-Arab nation since the military seized power in October.

In video clips posted online late on Wednesday, they rejected the negotiations as a farce and said they would only succeed in legitimising military rule.

The negotiations, which kicked off in Khartoum on Wednesday after months of preparations, are being promoted by the United Nations, the African Union and the regional IGAD grouping.

The inaugural session was mostly taken up by procedural and technical issues on how to proceed, with the boycott by the pro-democracy groups raising questions on whether the process could produce a road map for reviving the transition to democratic rule upended by the October 25 seizure of power by the generals.

Sudanese protesters commemorate the third anniversary of a deadly crackdown carried out by security forces on protesters in Khartoum, Sudan, on June 3, 2022.  AP Photo

“There is an agreement among participants that the political forces staying away are essential and important stakeholders for the democratic transition … there was consensus that their presence is necessary for the success of this dialogue,” Volker Perthes, the UN representative in Sudan, told reporters.

He said he and his AU and IGAD colleagues will try to persuade the forces boycotting the process to reconsider and join.

Mohamed Hassan Lebatt, the AU envoy, was more emphatic than Mr Perthes when he spoke about the impact of the boycott on the process.

“There are key political actors that have not attended today's meeting,” he said. “We don't envision a political solution without the participation of those who are absent.”

The boycott is led by the main faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change, the pro-democracy group that played a key role in the 2018-19 uprising against dictator Omar Al Bashir. It went on to become the military’s chief partner in a transitional administration that took the reins of power four months after Al Bashir’s removal in April 2019.

A Sudanese demonstrator takes part in a rally to protest against last year's military coup, in the capital Khartoum on January 30.  AFP

Also boycotting the process are the Resistance Committees — the driving force behind the wave of street protests engulfing the country since October’s military takeover, demanding that the generals quit politics altogether and a civilian-led transition to democracy is restored.

The large Umma party and the smaller but influential Baath, communist, republican and conference parties also boycotted Wednesday’s first session of the negotiations.

On the other side of the political spectrum is the military, represented by four senior generals, as well as leaders of rebel groups that have become allies of the generals since they signed a peace deal in 2020, along with Islamic groups that once supported Al Bashir’s 29-year regime.

Also in the military’s corner are tribal chiefs from Sudan’s “fringe” areas in western and eastern Sudan who have traditionally sided with whoever holds power in Khartoum in return for political and financial gain.

“It was a mistake that should not have been made by the trio [the UN, AU, IGAD] and that’s according legitimacy to the coup,” said Yasser Irman, a veteran opposition leader who was political adviser to the civilian-led government toppled by the military.

Sudan's military leader Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan. Reuters

Another opposition leader, Wagdy Saleh of the left-leaning Baath party, dismissed the dialogue as one between the generals behind the coup and groups that supported or called for it.

“We stand by the revolution [the 2018-19 uprising] and this political process is not a substitute for our revolution or the street,” he said. “We are not giving up on our demand for the coup to be rescinded.”

Al Wathiq Al Bereir of the Umma party said the military takeover was at the heart of Sudan’s problems and that no political process could succeed without the military stepping down first.

“Our demands for building trust and improving the political climate before the commencement of the process were ignored by the trio,” he complained.

The impact of the boycott was not missed on the military either.

“The trilateral mechanism will continue its efforts to persuade them to participate,” said Gen Ibrahim Jaber, a member of the ruling, military-led Sovereign Council and part of the military’s four-man negotiating team.

He said messages would be sent to the boycotting factions to convince them to join the process.

The October coup has plunged the country of 44 million people into disarray, with an already woeful economy significantly worsening and security severely tested in Khartoum and the restive Darfur region in the west, where hundreds have died in sectarian clashes since October.

The international community responded strongly to the coup, suspending billions of dollars’ worth of aid and a debt forgiveness programme, and demanding a return to the civilian-led democratic transition.

Sudan’s western backers also condemned the use of deadly force against unarmed protesters. At least 101 people have been killed and another 5,000 have been injured since October.

Gen Al Burhan, who has promised elections next year, says the military takeover was necessary to spare the country a civil war and has repeatedly stated that he has no political ambitions of his own.

In an address to the nation late on Tuesday, he said the military was prepared to hand over power to civilians on condition that political forces reach an agreement on how to proceed with the remainder of the transition or when an elected government is in office.

However, opposition activists and politicians say the military is just buying time to strengthen its grip on the country and that it has no intention of stepping down, seeking to secure popular support and bolstering its image as the sole true and most effective guardian of the nation while demonising the pro-democracy forces.

“We in the Resistance Committees see the solution of the Sudanese problem in downing the October 25 coup and holding accountable those behind it,” said pro-democracy groups in a statement.

“We would like to assure everyone that the result of these negotiations don’t concern us and we will continue to fill the streets alongside the steadfast masses.”

Updated: June 09, 2022, 12:57 PM