Sudan on Wednesday began UN-facilitated direct talks between rival factions hoped to resolve a political crisis sparked by last year’s coup, but with a critical civilian bloc refusing to participate.
Since the coup, Sudan has been rocked by deepening unrest — near-weekly protests, a violent crackdown that has killed over 100 people, and a tumbling economy.
As talks took place in the capital Khartoum, hundreds of people rallied in the east of the city calling for civilian rule, in the latest protest against the October 25 power grab led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
Security forces fired tear gas to disperse them, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
“It is important to not let this moment slip,” United Nations special representative Volker Perthes told reporters in Khartoum. “We are asking everybody to work with one another in good faith.”
The military takeover derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule that had been established following the 2019 ouster of long-serving autocratic president Omar al-Bashir.
The UN, African Union and regional bloc IGAD have since March been pushing for Sudanese-led talks to break the political stalemate.
On Tuesday, Burhan hailed the talks as a “historic opportunity” and called on political factions “to not stand as a stumbling block”.
– Push for talks –
Wednesday’s talks were attended by military officials, representatives from several political parties, and senior members from ex-rebel groups.
But Sudan’s main civilian bloc, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) — which was ousted from power in the coup — as well as the influential Umma party have refused to take part.
Members from the resistance committees, informal groups which emerged during the 2019 protests against Bashir and which have led calls for recent anti-coup rallies, were also absent.
The meeting “does not address the nature of the crisis” and any political process should work on “ending the coup and establishing a democratic civilian authority”, the FFC said in a statement earlier this week.
The Umma Party said the objective of the talks was “undefined” and the political climate “was not fully prepared.”
In remarks after Wednesday’s meeting, Perthes said the “trilateral mechanism” of the UN, AU and IGAD would continue efforts to bring the groups which refused to attend to the table.
“Their presence is important for the success of these talks,” he told reporters.
“The trilateral mechanism will continue its efforts to persuade them to participate.”
Senior military official Ibrahim Jaber, a member of the ruling Sovereign Council, said messages would be sent to the missing factions to convince them to attend.
IGAD envoy Ismail Wais urged those not the talks to join. “They are always welcome and the door is open,” Wais said.
“We… cannot imagine a political solution without the participation” of the absent factions, AU envoy Mohamed Lebatt said.
The talks came after Burhan lifted last month the state of emergency imposed since the coup.
Authorities have in recent weeks released multiple civilian leaders and pro-democracy activists.
Perthes welcomed the measures, but said “more can be done”.
Western nations including Britain, France, Norway and the United States have also urged Sudanese authorities “to undertake further confidence-building measures”.
In a statement on Wednesday, they called for an “effective end to the use of force against protesters, lifting emergency decrees; ensuring progress on ongoing investigations into human rights violations.”