KHARTOUM: Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan called on troops on Sunday to “end” support for authoritarian leaders as talks begin on military reforms, part of a prolonged transition to civilian rule.
Burhan seized power in a 2021 coup that had derailed a short-lived democratic transition following the 2019 ouster of Gen. Omar Bashir.
“During our history, the armed forces have supported dictatorial governments, and we want to put an end to that,” Burhan, a career soldier during Bashir’s three-decade rule, said in a speech to soldiers.
Reform of the security forces in a key point of tension in discussions on a two-phase political process launched in December, envisaging generals’ exit from politics once a civilian government is installed.
Critics have decried the deal, agreed by Burhan with multiple factions including a key civilian bloc, as “vague.”
The proposed reforms include the integration into the regular army of the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by Burhan’s deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.
Created in 2013, RSF emerged from the Janjaweed militia that Bashir unleashed a decade earlier in the western region of Darfur against non-Arab rebels, where it was accused of war crimes by rights groups.
While experts have pointed to worrying rivalries between Burhan and Daglo, the two men took turns speaking on Sunday in the capital Khartoum, pleading for a successful integration.
Daglo said he wanted “a unified army,” while Burhan called for “a professional army that stays away from politics.”
The December deal came after near-weekly protests since Burhan’s October 2021 takeover, which had also triggered international aid cuts, adding to the deepening political and economic troubles in one of the world’s poorest countries.
Daglo, the RSF commander also known as Hemeti, said earlier this month he was against “anyone who wants to become a dictator,” and that he opposed those “clinging on to power.”
He said the latest coup had “failed” because it had not brought change but rather the return of the “old regime” of Bashir loyalists.
The talks this week follow a framework deal agreed in December between the military and the civilian Forces for Freedom and Change alliance, which aims to turn the page the coup which led to mass protests and cut Sudan off from much international financial support.
Sudan’s army has a long history of staging military takeovers and has amassed substantial economic holdings. It wants to see the RSF, which by some estimates has up to 100,000 fighters, integrated under its control.
The two sides are expected to formally adopt the deal on April 6 and launch a new civilian government on April 11.
The agreement had left several sensitive issues, including the security reform and transitional justice, for further discussion.
Power jostling between Dagalo and Burhan, along with uncertainty over how and when the RSF could be merged with the army, has been a source of recent tension.
Dagalo has put himself at the forefront of the planned transition toward democracy, unsettling fellow military rulers and triggering a mobilization of troops in the capital Khartoum in recent weeks.
Burhan asserted on Sunday that the country’s army would be brought under the leadership of a new civilian government, restating pledges that it would withdraw from politics.
“The process of security and military reform is a long and complicated process and one that cannot be bypassed,” he said.