Saudi Arabia, UAE urge new talks in Sudan as death toll rises to 100

Bricks are laid by protesters to block a street in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to stop military vehicles from driving through the area on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (AP)
Updated 06 June 2019

Saudi Arabia, UAE urge new talks in Sudan as death toll rises to 100

  • Death toll in the Sudanese military’s crackdown has risen to 100
  • Saudi Arabia expressed its condolences to the families of those killed

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia and the UAE raised concerns regarding the deteriorating situation in Sudan and urged all Sudanese parties to resume talks.

Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it was concerned about new violence in Sudan and urged a resumption of talks between military rulers and protesters demanding a civilian government.

The Saudi statement came as Sudanese opposition representatives rejected an offer of renewed dialogue from the Transitional Military Council, and the death toll from Monday’s attack on the protesters’ sit-in outside army headquarters in Khartoum rose to 100 when 40 bodies were found in the Nile River.

“The government of Saudi Arabia has followed with great concern the developments in the brotherly Republic of Sudan, which resulted in a number of deaths and injuries,” Saudi Arabia said.

“The Kingdom affirms the importance of resuming the dialogue between the various parties in Sudan to fulfill the aspirations of the brotherly Sudanese people.”

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said they hope talks will resume between the Sudanese parties in a statement on Thursday.
"The UAE hopes that wisdom, voice of reason and constructive dialogue would prevail between all Sudanese parties, in a way that guarantees security and stability of Sudan, helps spare its people the scourge of evil, safeguard its gains and ensure its unity,” the statement said.

The paramilitary commander accused of ordering Monday’s massacre said the law must be upheld. “We will not allow chaos ... we must impose the authority of the state through law,” said Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Himedti, deputy chief of the military council and head of the Rapid Support Forces.

The general criticized makeshift barricades erected across streets by demonstrators with the aim of blocking access for the security forces, but he said the military council had launched “an urgent and transparent investigation” into Monday’s violence. “Any person who crossed boundaries has to be punished,” he said.

The military council has controlled Sudan since ousting President Omar Al-Bashir in April after months of protests. It has ditched an agreement for a three-year transition period to a civilian administration and is now pushing for an election in nine months.

On Wednesday, however, the council appeared to soften its position, and offered an unconditional resumption of talks with opposition groups. “We in the military council open our arms to negotiate with no restriction but the national interest to continue building a legitimate power that reflects the aspirations of the Sudanese revolution in every way,” said its head, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.

Sudan’s alliance of protesters and opposition groups said the military could not be trusted, and rejected the offer. “Today the council invited us to dialogue and at the same time it is imposing fear on citizens in the streets,” said spokesman Madani Abbas Madani.

The atmosphere in Khartoum remained tense on Wednesday, with demonstrators blocking streets in several districts.

Most shops were shuttered on what would usually have been a bustling Eid holiday. There were minor protests outside mosques after Eid prayers but no significant clashes with security forces.

The United Nations said late Wednesday it was relocating some of its staff away from Khartoum, while Britain warned its citizens against all but essential travel to Khartoum and decided to pull non-essential staff from its embassy.

*With AFP


UK ambassador reflects on five ‘big years’ in Saudi Arabia

Outgoing UK Ambassador Simon Collis speaks during an interview with Arab News in Riyadh. (AN photo by Saleh Al-Ghanem)
Updated 27 January 2020

UK ambassador reflects on five ‘big years’ in Saudi Arabia

  • Gap between perception and reality of Kingdom, says Simon Collis

RIYADH: Britain’s outgoing ambassador to Saudi Arabia said it has been a privilege to be in the country for the last five years and witness the changes in the Kingdom firsthand.

Simon Collis joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1978 and has been an ambassador in Iraq, Syria and Qatar. He has also held senior diplomatic positions in Bahrain, Tunisia, Jordan, Dubai and India.
His diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia began a week after King Salman came to the throne in January 2015. A personal highlight was performing the Hajj in 2016 with wife Huda.
The five years that we’ve been here have been five big years, not only for us but five big years ... in the history of Saudi Arabia and certainly in the relationship with the UK,” he told Arab News. “It’s been just a wonderful time.”
He said there used to be concern about the role of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, known as the Mutawa’a or religious police, and its unchecked power.
“There were people that would be nervous about it. There was no music in public places, there was no mixing in restaurants. In 2015 no one would have imagined just how much these changes would be, first with (the reform plan) Vision 2030, then economic, and also social changes, women driving, the removal of the guardianship laws across pretty much everything, and the balancing role of the Mutawa’a.”
He welcomed the government’s emphasis on developing the entertainment and cultural sectors, calling it a “tremendous story,” and said he had enjoyed witnessing the Kingdom’s transformation.
“To see the enthusiasm in a young country, I think a lot of these new sectors, creative entertainment, on top of the existing ones like education, have been a delight to see. Of course, it’s not finished yet. I think this period, these five years, will look like a big moment in the history of the Kingdom.”
Changes in the Kingdom have attracted interest — and greater visitor numbers — from overseas.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Simon Collis joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1978 and has been an ambassador in Iraq, Syria and Qatar.

• He has also held senior diplomatic positions in Bahrain, Tunisia, Jordan, Dubai and India.

• His diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia began a week after King Salman came to the throne in January 2015.

• A personal highlight was performing the Hajj in 2016 with wife Huda.

The country is gaining a reputation for hosting massive events featuring the world’s biggest names including boxing match Clash On The Dunes pitting Britain’s Anthony Joshua against Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr, the electronic dance music festival MDL Beast featuring David Guetta and Steve Aoki, and concerts from K-Pop megastars BTS and Super Junior.
The ambassador said there was a gap between the perception of the Kingdom and the country’s on-the-ground reality.
“In any country, there is a gap between the perception that the image that exists in the world, and the reality that you find. This is true of any country. That gap between the perception and reality has been bigger in relation to Saudi Arabia than to any other country that I’ve lived in. So, the result is once people visit and they see for themselves, then they change their overall perception. They change their minds, and this is a very powerful thing.”
Tens of thousands of UK nationals visit the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah every year to perform Hajj and Umrah, but the reasons to visit the country are increasing.
Collis said that 43,000 people from the UK had taken advantage of a new e-visa system launched last October to visit Saudi Arabia, the highest number in the world.
“Every year we’ve seen the number of Saudi nationals visiting the UK increase, now it’s coming the other way,” Collis said. “With a population of less than 70 million, and it’s the No. 1 country visiting Saudi Arabia more than any other country, I’m very proud of that. I would say that of the hundreds and thousands of British people who I have met visiting Saudi Arabia for the first time, every single person I have met has left with a more positive (outlook) than the one that they arrived with. So, more visits must mean more people have a better idea of the realities of this country, society and its people.”
Collis said he had met many Saudis and forged friendships with them. People in the Kingdom had integrity and were straightforward, and the ambassador had special praise for the younger generation saying there was a “natural enjoyment” when he sat with them to talk. They were very aware, he added.

NUMBER

43,000 - people from the UK had taken advantage of a new e-visa system launched last October to visit Saudi Arabia, the highest number in the world.

His regard for young Saudis is evident. He launched the Alumni Awards, which recognize Saudi students who have returned to the Kingdom, excelled and succeeded in their professions or made an impact in their communities. With more than 100,000 Saudis studying in the UK over the last 10 years, the program will be developed in order to increase engagement with them once they return to Saudi Arabia.
The national and global awards initiative is aimed at showcasing the impact and value of a UK higher education, and winners and finalists are leaders in their fields.
“The Alumni Awards are fun. What the award looks at, whether it’s an entrepreneur or professional or social category, it’s not what did you do in the UK with your studies, it’s when you got your qualification, what did you do in Saudi Arabia when you came back. How did you use it? It’s about what use you put it to, not what you get, but how did you use it to further your own career, your life and that of your community and others around you,” Collis said.
Collis is succeeded as the UK’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia by Neil Crompton, who takes up the role next month.