Senior US envoy in Sudan to defuse tensions between military and government

Jeffrey Feltman says Washington fully behind transition to civilian, democratic rule

US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman has warned that American support will be in question if Sudan's transition to democratic rule is interrupted. AFP
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A senior US diplomat arrived in Sudan on Saturday on an urgent mission to ease growing tension between the civilian-led government and the military over the country’s troubled transition to democratic rule, following the 2019 ousting of dictator Omar Al Bashir.

The arrival in Khartoum of Jeffrey Feltman, the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, came two days after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Khartoum and across the rest of Sudan to demand that military leader Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan step down.

The demonstrations were called by the Forces of Freedom and Change, FFC, a pro-democracy alliance that operates as the power base of the government led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The US embassy in Khartoum said Mr Feltman underlined Washington’s support for Sudan’s transition to democratic rule in a meeting on Saturday that brought him together with Mr Hamdok, Gen Al Burhan and his deputy, Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

“Mr Feltman emphasised the United States’ support for a transition to civilian and democratic shift in accordance with the declared wish of the Sudanese people,” the embassy said on its Facebook page, referring to Thursday’s mass demonstrations.

“He also urged all parties to renew their commitment to work together to implement the constitutional declaration and the Juba peace accords,” it said.

The declaration is a power-sharing charter signed by the FFC and the military in August 2019. It provides the basis for their partnership in a transitional administration.

The Juba accords are peace deals signed a year ago between the military and rebel groups in the West and south of the country.

Mr Feltman, making his second visit to Sudan in less than a month, warned in an interview with The National on Wednesday that Sudan could be at risk if its transition to civilian rule was impeded – a clear message to the military not to attempt to seize power or interfere with the shift to democratic rule.

“If the transition is interrupted, if one side or the other in this [civilian-military] partnership tries to prevail, then the US support for all of these issues, including debt relief, will be in question,” Mr Feltman said.

The US has this year provided nearly $337 million to support Sudan's transitional government.

Washington has also removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and helped Khartoum in talks with the International Monetary Fund,

The IMF approved $50 billion in debt relief and $2.4bn in funding in June.

Under the 2019 declaration, Gen Al Burhan should be handing over the reins of power to a civilian from the FFC later this year or early in 2022.

The two sides are at odds over the exact date of the handover as Gen Al Burhan appears increasingly reluctant to step down and showing signs of political ambitions of his own.

Gen Al Burhan has indicated an intention to retain power in recent comments.

He described the military as the “guardian” of the nation and that it could not hand over power except to an elected government.

He has also been scathingly critical of Mr Hamdok’s government for its handling of the economy.

FFC leaders say that Gen Al Burhan's criticism of the government is designed to justify the military staying at the helm.

They also suspect that the military is behind a month-long blockade by protesters in eastern Sudan of the main highway linking the main commercial seaport on the Red Sea and the rest of the nation.

Their action has caused a severe bread shortage and, if it continues, could lead to a scarcity of fuel and other basic items.

Hours before Mr Feltman’s arrival, FFC leaders explained in a news conference that their differences with the military also include the generals’ perceived reluctance to hand over Al Bashir, who was a military officer, to the International Criminal court to be tried for crimes against humanity and genocide.

The FFC is made up of professional organisations and trade unions, as well as political parties and rebel groups. It was the main force behind months of deadly street protests in 2018 and 2019 that prompted the military to remove Al Bashir in April 2019.

Tension between the military and the FFC-backed government has been simmering for months but only became public following a failed coup attempt last month.

The military and their supporters have openly called for Mr Hamdok’s government to step down.

The continuing crisis, described by Mr Hamdok as the “worst and most dangerous” Sudan faced since Al Bashir’s removal, is a continuation of the competition for power between civilians and the military that has defined Sudan’s political landscape since independence in 1956.

Updated: October 23, 2021, 7:36 PM