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On Saturday, members of the opposition were arrested in Sudan, after meeting with African Union (AU) appointed mediator Abiy Ahmed in an attempt to restart peace talks with the Transitional Military Council (TMC). Opposition politician, Mohamed Esmat, and secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, Ismail Jalab, were seized within hours of meeting with Abiy. Both were a part of the Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF), a coalition of civilian groups opposed to military rule and committed to transitioning to democracy. As a result, the remaining protest leaders have rejected the peace talks, claiming the TMC is no longer trustworthy.
DFCF leader Khalid Omar Yousef, has told Reuters the arrest of protest leaders, “amounts to a practical response from the military council that effectively rejects the Ethiopian prime minister’s mediation effort.” As of yet, the TMC has not made comment on the arrests. Prior to the arrests, the AU warned the TMC of immediate action if power was not transferred to a civilian-led government.
Eric Reeves, an expert on Sudan at Harvard, is concerned that the TMC has achieved an important victory. He told Al Jazeera that the TMC has created, “division within the civilian opposition between those who will not negotiate with the Transitional Military Council under any conditions and those who will engage the TMC but with conditions. It is a very confusing situation, a very divisive one.”
Reeves makes the important point that as divisive interests become increasingly important to separate groups, the coalition may fracture, which in turn will weaken the power of the opposition. Currently, the only option available to the opposition is to continue their campaign of civil disobedience, led by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA). It is unclear how the AU will respond to the failed negotiations. Nonetheless, the blatant contempt the TMC has shown with regard to civilian and political human rights over the past week must be addressed swiftly. If the AU does not act immediately, civilians will be placed in greater danger. Further, it will signal to the TMC that the AU is either unwilling or unable to impose harsh sanctions.
The failed negotiations come only a day after Sudan was suspended from the AU, in response to recent violence in Khartoum. The violence was directed towards a protest sit-in group, comprised of unarmed civilians. According to Reuters, the violence was conducted by security forces known as Rapid Support Force (RSF) on 3 June, killing between 61 and 150 civilians, according to different sources, with over 500 wounded. In the days that followed, security forces raided hospitals, and ordered doctors to expel injured protesters. The DFCF were willing to negotiate with the TMC, provided specific conditions were met, such as the TMC taking responsibility for the deadly attack against protesters. Up until the arrests, Reuters reported that the peace talks were continuing smoothly.
The current situation in Sudan is worsening. Peace talks have broken down, with protest groups unwilling to come back to the table. The SPA is calling on a nationwide civil disobedience campaign. The TMC has clearly signalled to civilian groups it is both unwilling to take their demands seriously, and that it is prepared to violate human rights to maintain power. The AU has yet to respond to the situation. Given the stubbornness of both groups, it is possible that the fate of the fragile transition to Sudanese democracy will be decided in the coming days.