Sudan talks enter day two as key issue still unresolved

Sudanese protesters chant slogans demanding civilian rule on June 29, 2019 at the end of a rally in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman in which the chief of the military council delivered a speech. (AFP)
Updated 04 July 2019

Sudan talks enter day two as key issue still unresolved

  • Talks finally resumed Wednesday after intense mediation by Ethiopian and African Union envoys, who have put forward a draft proposal to break the deadlock
  • Tensions further surged between the generals and protest leaders after a deadly pre-dawn raid on a longstanding protest camp in Khartoum on June 3 killed dozens of demonstrators and wounded hundreds

KHARTOUM: Talks between Sudan’s ruling generals and protest leaders, held after weeks of standoff following a deadly crackdown on protesters, enter a second day Thursday with the key issue of forming a new governing body still unresolved.
Sudan has been rocked by a political crisis since the army ousted longtime ruler Omar Al-Bashir in April on the back of widespread protests, with the ruling generals resisting demonstrators’ demands to hand power to a civilian administration.
The generals had previously agreed over a broad civilian structure, but talks between the two sides collapsed in May following a disagreement over who should lead an overall new governing body — a civilian or a soldier.
Tensions further surged between the generals and protest leaders after a deadly pre-dawn raid on a longstanding protest camp in Khartoum on June 3 killed dozens of demonstrators and wounded hundreds.
Talks finally resumed Wednesday after intense mediation by Ethiopian and African Union envoys, who have put forward a draft proposal to break the deadlock.
The two sides were due to meet again on Thursday evening.
“The discussion will be about who heads the sovereign council,” a prominent protest leader who is part of the talks, Ahmed Al-Rabie, told AFP, referring to the governing body.
He said the ruling military council that took power after Bashir’s ouster insists the head of the new governing body be from the army.
“We believe that symbolically the head of the state must be a civilian,” Rabie said.
For weeks this issue has rocked Sudan, extending the political crisis triggered since the fall of Bashir.
The joint Ethiopian and African Union blueprint calls for a civilian-majority ruling body.
On Wednesday, the first day of the latest round of talks, the two sides did not discuss the crucial issue of the governing body.
“The parties conducted responsible negotiations and agreed on some issues,” African Union mediator Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt told reporters overnight after long hours of talks held at a luxury hotel in the capital.
“There’s a decision taken to release all political detainees.”
A group of 235 fighters from a faction of a Darfur rebel group that is part of the protest movement were released later on Thursday.
They were freed from Al-Huda prison in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum across the Nile river, an AFP correspondent reported, adding that many relatives had arrived to receive the fighters.
Protest leaders have exerted pressure on the generals since the June 3 raid on the mass sit-in outside army headquarters.
The raid was carried out by men in military fatigues.
The ruling military council insists it did not order the violent dispersal of the sit-in.
At least 136 people have been killed across the country since the raid, including more than 100 on June 3, according to doctors close to the umbrella protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change.
The health ministry says 78 people have been killed nationwide over the same period.
On Sunday, protest leaders managed to mobilize tens of thousands of supporters in the first mass protest against the generals since the raid.
The mass rally had been seen as a test for the protest leaders’ ability to mobilize crowds after the generals imposed a widespread Internet blackout and deployed security forces in the capital’s key squares and districts, its twin city Omdurman and other towns and villages.
Protest leaders have further upped the pressure on the generals by calling for a similar mass protest on July 13, to be followed by a nationwide civil disobedience campaign a day later.
The campaign, if observed, would be the second such agitation since the June 3 raid.
The first, held between June 9 and 11, paralyzed the country, hitting an already dilapidated economy hard.


Airstrikes kill 19 civilians in northwest Syria

Updated 08 December 2019

Airstrikes kill 19 civilians in northwest Syria

  • The airstrikes on Idlib province have intensified over the past few weeks

AL-BARA, Syria: Syrian regime and Russian airstrikes on Saturday killed 19 civilians, eight of them children, in the country’s last major opposition bastion, a war monitor said.

The air raids in the rebel-run northwestern region of Idlib also wounded several others, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Airstrikes by regime ally Russia killed four civilians including a child in the village of Al-Bara in the south of the region, the Observatory said.

An AFP correspondent at the scene saw rescue workers pick through the rubble of a two-story home whose concrete roof had collapsed.

Rescuers carried away the body of a victim wrapped in a blanket on a stretcher.

Russian raids also killed nine civilians including three children in the nearby village of Balyun, the Observatory said.

Crude barrel bombs dropped by government helicopters killed five civilians including three children in the village of Abadeeta, also in the same area.

In the southeast of the embattled region, a raid by a regime aircraft killed another child in the village of Bajghas, the Observatory said.

The Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, says it determines the provenance of an airstrike by looking at flight patterns and the aircraft and munitions involved.

The airstrikes on Idlib province have intensified over the past few weeks as the government appears to be preparing for an offensive on rebel-held areas east of the province to secure the main highway that links the capital Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest and once commercial center.

The Idlib region, which is home to some 3 million people including many displaced by Syria’s civil war, is controlled by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back control of Idlib.

Bashar Assad’s forces launched a blistering military campaign against the region in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people from their homes. A cease-fire announced by Moscow has largely held since late August.

But the Observatory says deadly bombardment and skirmishes have persisted, with more than 200 civilians killed in the region since the deal.

Syria’s war has killed over 370,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.

Earlier, the Observatory and the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense said four people, including a child and two women, were killed in airstrikes on the opposition-held village of Bara.

The Observatory said five others were killed in the village of Ibdeita and a child in another village nearby.

Different casualty figures are common in the immediate aftermath of violence in Syria, where an eight-year conflict has killed about 400,000 people, wounded more than a million and displaced half the country’s prewar population.

Syrian troops launched a four-month offensive earlier this year on Idlib, which is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants. The government offensive forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

A fragile cease-fire halted the government advance in late August but has been repeatedly violated in recent weeks.