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‘State of terror’ reigns in Khartoum, residents fear for post-massacre tensions5 minutes read

Apart from an alarming presence of military forces in Khartoum, internet blackouts continued to beset the city.

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'State of terror' reigns in Khartoum, residents fear for post-massacre tensions
Members of Sudan's security forces patrol the town of Omdurman, just across the Nile from the capital Khartoum. (Photo by - / AFP)

Heavily armed paramilitaries roamed the Sudanese capital Thursday, forcing fearful residents to hide indoors after a crackdown on protesters that authorities admitted had left dozens dead and prompted the African Union to suspend Khartoum.

Members of the Rapid Support Forces, who rights groups say have their origins in the Janjaweed militias of Darfur, deployed on the streets in pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns and rocket launchers, witnesses said.

“We’re living in a state of terror because of sporadic gunfire,” a resident of south Khartoum told reporters.

He said he was “afraid for (his) children to go out in the street”.


This map of Khartoum shows the areas in the capital city of Sudan, where dozens have been killed so far during a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by special forces attached to the country’s military.

As international condemnation mounted, a health ministry official told reporters that “the death toll across the country had risen to 61,” including 52 killed by “live ammunition” in Khartoum.

But it denied doctors’ claims that more than 100 people had been killed in the crackdown on protesters that began with a raid on a long-running sit-in outside the army headquarters on Monday.

The Central Committee for Sudanese Doctors said Wednesday that 40 bodies had been pulled from the Nile, sending the death toll soaring to at least 108.

The committee, which is part of the protest movement and relies on medics on the ground for its information, warned the figure could rise.

The military ousted longtime president Omar al-Bashir in April after months of protests against his authoritarian rule, but thousands of demonstrators had remained camped out in front of the army headquarters calling for the generals to cede power to civilians.

Despite several initial breakthroughs, talks between the ruling military council that took power after Bashir’s ouster and protest leaders collapsed over who should head a new governing body.

‘Feeling of terror’ –

Some life had returned to the streets of the capital on Thursday, with limited public transport operating and only a few cars on the roads.

A small number of shops and restaurants were open on the second day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

But in Omdurman, just across the Nile from Khartoum, a resident said there was a “feeling of terror” about “many military vehicles with all these weapons”. 

Members of Sudan’s security forces patrol as Muslim worshippers attend Eid al-Fitr prayers marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Omdurman, just across the Nile from the capital Khartoum. (Photo by – / AFP)

“We hope that this situation will end quickly so normal life resumes,” he told reporters.

At Khartoum’s airport, relatives of travellers stayed late into the night waiting to see if their flights would arrive, following a slew of cancellations over the past few days.

Internet blackouts continued to beset the city.

The African Union suspended Sudan, “until the effective establishment of a civilian-led Transitional Authority, as the only way to allow the Sudan to exit from the current crisis”, it said on Twitter.

The AU had urged the ruling generals to ensure a smooth transition of power, but the brutal crackdown to disperse protesters saw pressure mount on it to bring those responsible for the violence to justice.

The European Union said it joined the AU in calling for “an immediate end to violence and a credible enquiry into the criminal events of the last days”.

France called for the “resumption of dialogue” between the military committee and the opposition so that an “inclusive agreement is quickly found”.

‘Extreme caution’ –

The United Nations and the British embassy announced they were pulling non-essential staff and their families from Sudan, and the United States warned its citizens to exercise “extreme caution” amid the ongoing uncertainty.

Despite the heavy presence of security forces on Khartoum’s main streets, the groups that spearheaded the demonstrations against Bashir made a fresh call on Thursday for civil disobedience.

“The revolution continues and our people are victorious despite the terrorism and violence of the militias,” the Sudanese Professionals Association, the group that initially launched the anti-Bashir campaign, posted on Twitter.

It urged an “indefinite strike and civil disobedience,” warning against calls for violence.

In the northern suburb of Bahri, smaller roads were blocked by protesters putting up makeshift barricades made from rocks, bricks and tree trunks.

The protesters blamed the bloody crackdown on the “militias” of the military council.

The Rapid Support Forces have been singled out by protesters.

Some residents seemed wary of the heavy deployment of paramilitaries in the streets of the capital.

RSF commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as “Himediti,” said he was on the side of the “revolutionaries” but warned he would not “allow chaos,” referring specifically to the barricades put up in some neighbourhoods.

The ruling Military Council issued a statement hitting out at the “campaign organised on social media aimed at spreading lies and fabricating accusations”.

It said the RSF “refused to carry out the orders of the former regime to expel demonstrators from the sit-in by force”.

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North Africa

Russia, Turkey, France agree to stop meddling in Libyan conflict

The talks however failed to deliver “serious dialogue” between the warring parties — strongman Khalifa Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj — or to get both sides to sign up to a permanent truce.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a press conference at the end of a Peace summit on Libya at the Chancellery in Berlin on January 19, 2020. - Held under the auspices of the UN, the summit's main goal was to get foreign powers wielding influence in the region to stop interfering in the war -- be it through the supply of weapons, troops or financing. (Photo by Michael Kappeler / POOL / AFP)


The presidents of Russia, Turkey and France including other world leaders have committed to ending all foreign meddling in Libya’s civil war at a Berlin summit held Sunday, and to uphold a weapons embargo as part of a broader plan to end the long-running civil war.

The world powers signed up an agreement to stop interfering in the Libyan civil war whether through weapons, troops or financing, an AFP report said.

But the talks failed to deliver “serious dialogue” between the warring parties — strongman Khalifa Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj — or to get both sides to sign up to a permanent truce.

“Ensuring that a ceasefire is immediately respected is simply not easy to guarantee,” said summit host Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

“But I hope that through today’s conference, we have a chance the truce will hold further.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged that there are “still some questions on how well and effectively” the commitments can be monitored. 

But he said he is “optimistic that there will be less violence and… an opportunity to begin the conversation that (UN special envoy) Ghassan Salame has been trying to get going between the Libyan parties”.

Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Most recently, Sarraj’s troops in Tripoli have been under attack since April from Haftar’s forces.

Clashes have killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands, until a fragile ceasefire backed by both Ankara and Moscow was put in place on January 12.

Although Sarraj’s government is recognised by the UN, powerful players have broken away to stand behind Haftar — turning a domestic conflict into what some have described as a proxy war in which international powers jostle to secure their own interests.

Alarm grew in recent weeks after Turkey ordered in troops to shore up Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

– ‘Small step’ forward -UN chief Antonio Guterres said the world powers had made “a strong commitment to stop” the conflict escalating into a regional confrontation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed to some positive takeaways from the talks, but said the summit failed to launch necessary talks between Sarraj and Haftar.

“It is clear that we have not yet succeeded in launching a serious and stable dialogue between them,” Lavrov told reporters after the conference, where Haftar and Sarraj did not meet face to face. 

Nevertheless, the Libyan parties had taken “a small step” forward, Lavrov added.

Pro-Haftar forces upped the ante on the eve of the talks by blocking oil exports at Libya’s key ports, crippling the country’s main income source in protest at Turkey’s decision to send troops to shore up Sarraj.

In afternoon trade on Asian markets Monday, oil prices rose more than one percent on supply concerns following the move.

– Vested interests -The flaring oil crisis underlined the devastating impact of foreign influence in the conflict, in which Sarraj’s GNA is backed by Turkey and Qatar while Haftar has the support of Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Ahead of the talks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Haftar, saying he needed to drop his “hostile attitude” if Libya is to have any chance at winning peace.

Russia has been accused of sending in mercenaries to help Haftar as Moscow seeks to extend its influence in the region — allegations it denies.

For Turkey, the fall of Sarraj’s GNA could jeopardise a maritime boundary agreement the parties signed. It gives Ankara extensive rights over the eastern Mediterranean where the recent discovery of undersea gas reserves has triggered a scramble by littoral states. 

Erdogan has repeatedly urged Europe to stand united behind Sarraj’s government, warning that Tripoli’s fall could allow jihadist groups like the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda to regroup.

Further unrest could prompt a new wave of migrants to head for Europe, he has cautioned.

Amid the latest apparent ceasefire violation — according to GNA forces Sunday, Haftar’s militia opened fire on them in southern Tripoli — Sarraj issued a plea for international “protection troops”.

The call echoed a similar suggestion by the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell, who stressed that monitors must be present to check that any ceasefire and weapons embargo are respected. 

With the idea gathering pace, Britain and Italy had voiced readiness to help, ahead of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday that will discuss how the bloc can contribute to implementing Sunday’s deal.

But as Guterres noted, that discussion remains premature.

“First, we need to have a ceasefire — we cannot monitor something that doesn’t exist.”

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North Africa

UN envoy warns ‘foreign interference’ is destroying Libya

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Ghassan Salame, UN Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya./UN

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salame on Saturday warned international players to stop meddling in the Libyan conflict as ‘foreign interference’ was destroying the North African country.

Salame spoke with AFP on the eve of a summit of world powers scheduled for Sunday in Germany to try to bring peace to Libya and its people.

“All foreign interference can provide some aspirin effect in the short term, but Libya needs all foreign interference to stop. That’s one of the objectives of this conference,” Ghassan Salame said in an interview ahead of the Berlin summit.

Leaders of Russia, Turkey and France are due to join talks in Berlin on Sunday held under the auspices of the United Nations, which wants to extract a pledge from foreign powers wielding influence in the region to stop meddling in the conflict — be it by supplying weapons, troops or financing.

Both leaders of the warring factions — strongman Khalifa Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj — are also expected at the first gathering of such scale on the conflict since 2018.

Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi and toppled his regime.

More recently, Sarraj’s troops in Tripoli have been under attack since April from Haftar’s forces, with clashes killing more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displacing tens of thousands.

– ‘Vicious cycle’ -Although Sarraj’s government is recognised by the UN, some powerful players have broken away to stand behind Haftar — turning a domestic conflict into what is essentially a proxy war with international powers jostling to secure their own interests from global influence to oil and migration.

Alarm grew internationally when Ankara ordered in troops early January to help shore up Sarraj, while Moscow is suspected of providing weapons, financing and mercenaries to Haftar — something Russia has denied.

“We must end this vicious cycle of Libyans calling for the help of foreign powers. Their intervention deepens the divisions among the Libyans,” said Salame, noting that the place of international players should be to “help Libyans develop themselves”. 

The UN envoy said Sunday’s meeting will also seek to “consolidate” a shaky ceasefire.

“Today we only have a truce. We want to transform it into a real ceasefire with monitoring, separation (of rival camps), repositioning of heavy weapons” outside urban zones, he said.

The UN had sought on multiple attempts to bid for peace, but talks have repeatedly collapsed.

– Erdogan issues warning -On the eve of the Berlin talks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Europe to stand united behind Sarraj’s government, as Tripoli’s fall could leave “fertile ground” for jihadist groups like IS or Al-Qaeda “to get back on their feet”.

Erdogan also played up Europe’s fears of a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis in his commentary for Politico news website, that further unrest could prompt a new wave of migrants to head for the continent.

Accusing France in particular of siding with Haftar, Erdogan said leaving Libya to the general would be a “mistake of historic proportions”. 

France has denied it was backing Haftar. But a diplomatic source noted that the fact that the general already controls 80 percent of Libya needed to be taken into account.

The European Union is watching with growing alarm at the escalating strife on its doorstep as it counts on Libya as a gatekeeper deterring migrants from crossing the Mediterranean.

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New Sudan intelligence chief resumes amidst tension among operatives

The Transitional Council which runs the country also accepted the resignation of General Abu Bakr Dumblab, who previously headed the NISS.

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Sudan's military council cancels talks with protesters, calls for elections in 2020
Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, Sudanese Army lieutenant general who is currently serving as Chairman of the Sovereign Council, the country's collective transitional head of state.

Sudan’s Transitional Sovereign Council has appointed General Jamal Abdul Majeed as the new head of the General Intelligence Service, formerly known as National Intelligence and Security Service, NISS.

Until his appointment, Majeed had previously headed the country’s military intelligence, a council statement said on Thursday.

The council which runs the country also accepted the resignation of General Abu Bakr Dumblab, who previously headed the NISS.

Dumblab resigned “to open the door for a new leadership to take over the agency at this sensitive and delicate stage,” the intelligence service said in statement.

Dumblab had become head of the service after the removal of Bashir, a Reuters report said.

Majeed’s appointment came days after putting down an armed revolt by former agents linked to toppled ruler Omar al-Bashir, the sovereign council said.

The army said two soldiers were killed and four wounded in fighting late on Tuesday in Khartoum with former members of the country’s once-feared security service before government forces quelled the uprising.

It was the biggest confrontation so far between the old guard and supporters of the transitional authorities, which helped topple Bashir in April after 30 years in power.

Former agents of the intelligence service, who had been protesting against their severance packages, also shut two small oilfields on Tuesday.

The military took control of the two fields, which have an output of around 5,000 barrels a day, and production resumed on Wednesday.

The revolt also forced the authorities to close Sudan’s airspace but it was reopened on Tuesday.

In a speech early on Wednesday, the sovereign council head, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, vowed to stand firm against any coup attempt and added that the army was in control of all buildings used by the intelligence service.

Restructuring the security apparatus, blamed by many Sudanese for suppressing dissent under Bashir, was a key demand of the uprising that had forced his removal. However, once dismissed by the new transitional government, many of the security agents returned to barracks without handing in their weapons.

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