Sudan's Gen Al Burhan says elected government will control the military

He gives strongest assurance yet that armed forces will not play part in politics

Sudan's army chief and military ruler Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan. AFP
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Sudan's military leader Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan said the armed forces would "sooner or later" be subject to the authority of an elected civilian government, in his clearest indication yet of acceding to a key demand of the country's pro-democracy protest movement.

Gen Al Burhan was speaking at the launch of talks between the military and a pro-democracy coalition to work out the details of their agreement to resume Sudan's transition to democracy that was disrupted when he seized power more than a year ago.

"The armed forces is committed to its withdrawal [from politics] and to work with its political and civilian partners to lay down the foundations on which the framework of the military institution’s function in democratic societies is based," he said at the ceremony on Sunday.

"The armed forces is part of the state's organs that everyone should participate in its running. Sooner or later, it will be subject to the civilian administration produced by elections."

The agreement signed in early December envisions the military's withdrawal from politics and the appointment of a civilian prime minister to steer the country through a 24-month transition leading to free elections.

The second and final stage of the agreement requires civilians and the military to reach an understanding on five key issues before general elections are held.

The discussions will initially focus on dismantling elements from Omar Al Bashir's regime, which ruled for 29 years before he was removed by the military in April 2019 following months of street protests.

Other topics include reforms to the security apparatus, which consists of paramilitary groups, such as the Rapid Support Forces that civilians accuse of carrying out deadly attacks on protesters during and after Al Bashir's time in office.

The process is being mediated by the UN, the African Union, the regional IGAD group, as well as western and Arab powers, including the US, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The army and civilian groups had entered a power-sharing agreement several months after Al Bashir's removal under which a civilian-led government would run the country for a period of 39 months leading to elections, but the process was derailed by the coup on October 25, 2021.

Gen Al Burhan has spoken about the military withdrawing from politics and submitting to an elected government, but has hedged such statements or declared that the military would retain final say on issues of national security and sovereignty.

His latest comments, released by his office on Monday, appear to be the most unequivocal yet.

Many in Sudan remain sceptical of the new agreement and are demanding that the military relinquish power immediately and be held accountable for deaths of at least 120 people in protests against it seizure of power.

Amjad Fareid Eltayeb, who was assistant chief of staff to Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister removed in October 2021, said the deal signed on December 5 and the ensuing negotiations would lead to an "elite agreement that lacks public support" and which would not prevent future coups.

Sudan has been ruled by military figures for most of the 67 years since independence, with generals toppling elected but dysfunctional governments only to fare as badly or worse in tackling the country's chronic problems such as civil strife, hunger and lack of development.

The 2021 coup drew a sharp response from Sudan's western backers, with the US, EU and World Bank suspending billions of dollars' worth of aid and debt forgiveness. None of this will be restored before a civilian-led and credible democratic transition is back on track.

The US has warned it would slap a travel ban on any leader who threatens to derail the country's democratic transition under last month's agreement.

Although hailed as a potential breakthrough of Sudan's crippling political crisis, the agreement has left out several thorny issues to be dealt with at a later stage. These include transitional justice, reforming the armed forces and implementation of a peace deal signed with several rebel groups in 2020.

Several political forces also stayed away from the deal. These include the powerful Islamists loyal to the Al Bashir regime and the neighbourhood-based, pro-democracy Resistance Committees that have led the street protests against military for the past year.

Ominously, some of the rebel groups that signed the 2020 peace deal with the military have stated their opposition to the deal.

Nada AlTaher reported from Abu Dhabi

Updated: January 09, 2023, 1:48 PM