KHARTOUM, Sudan – The top U.S. diplomat to Africa said there must be an “independent and credible” investigation into the Sudanese military’s violent dispersal of a protest camp in the capital earlier this month, as the ruling military council failed to announce the findings of its own investigation on Saturday as promised.
Sudan’s security forces violently swept away a camp in Khartoum on June 3 where demonstrators had been holding a sit-in. More than 100 people have been killed and hundreds wounded since then, according to protest organizers. Authorities say only 61 have died, including three security forces.
The violent break-up marked a turn in the standoff between the protesters and the military, which removed autocratic President Omar al-Bashir from power in April after a months-long popular uprising against his 30-year rule.
Tibor Nagy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, said the deadly break-up of the sit-in outside the military’s headquarters “constituted a 180 degree turn in the way events were going with murder, rape, pillaging, by members of the Security Forces.” He said events were moving forward favorably until then.
The U.S. diplomat spoke late Friday upon his arrival in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa after a two-day visit to Sudan where he met with the ruling generals, protesters and victims of the crackdown, whose accounts were “harrowing and very persuasive.”
Sudan’s chief prosecutor Saturday rejected the idea of any outside probe, saying the military was doing its own investigation.
However, Sudan’s military council failed to release any findings of its investigation Saturday as it had announced, saying only that some troops were implicated in the violent dispersal against the council’s will. It said those troops were not part of security forces assigned to clear a problematic area near the sit-in, known as the Colombia area, and that they would be held accountable in a public trial. The council did not say when the findings would be released.
Protest organizers have called for an internationally backed probe into the crackdown. But the ruling military council, which acknowledged that security forces committed violations, have strongly rejected the idea.
Nagy said the head of the military council, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, “was adamant that there will be accountability” and that “we certainly hope that there will be such an investigation.”
Nagy said the U.S. has been supporting mediation efforts by the African Union and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to resume negotiations between the military council and protesters.
The U.S. diplomat declined to outline possible measures Washington might take if the situation worsens. But he warned of negative scenarios as both the military council and protest leaders “absolutely distrust each other.”
“We could end up with the type of chaos that exists in Libya or Somalia,” he said.
In the wake of the sit-in dispersal, negotiations between the military and protesters were called off and the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, which represents the protesters, held a three-day general strike and a campaign of civil disobedience. They also announced a package of conditions to be met before resuming talks, which included the formation of an international commission to investigate the killings of protesters, restored internet services, adherence to previous deals struck before the breakdown in talks and the return of paramilitary troops to their barracks.
The protesters ended their strike amid mediation efforts by the Ethiopian leader, who declared earlier this week that talks would be resumed “soon.”
On Saturday, deputy head of the military council Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo called for an interim government to run the country until elections are held and said the military council was ready to resume negotiations.
“We have a mandate from the Sudanese people to form a government from technocrats,” he told a press conference in Khartoum. Dagalo is the commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which the protesters accused of spearheading the crackdown. He alleges that foreign envoys are plotting against Sudan.
Ahmed Rabie, a protest leader and spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, told The Associated Press that an international probe on the deadly crackdown should be established before resuming the talks.
“We firmly hold on to our demands: An international probe, resuming internet services and removing all military and militias from the Sudanese cities,” he said.
Also on Saturday, Sudan’s chief prosecutor rejected the idea of an international investigation into the crackdown but sought to distance his office from the deadly break-up of the sit-in. Al-Waleed Mahmoud’s comments came two days after military council spokesman Gen. Shams Eddin Kabashi said the council had discussed dispersing protesters with top judicial officials.
Mahmoud said he did not discuss dispersing the protesters in the meeting.
“We did not discuss the sit-in break-up. We just discussed restoring order in the Colombia area,” he said in a press conference in Khartoum.
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