Ethiopia, AU mediators call for Sudan talks

Wednesday July 3, 2019

African Union and Ethiopian mediators Tuesday invited Sudan's ruling generals and protest leaders to resume talks, as they seek a breakthrough on creating a new governing body for the country.

The call to attend talks planned for Wednesday comes as tension remains high between the two sides after a deadly crackdown on June 3 on a protest camp that killed dozens and wounded hundreds in Khartoum.

"We have invited the two parties for a meeting tomorrow, and we have fixed for them a time and place," said African Union envoy Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt at a joint press conference with his Ethiopian counterpart Mahmoud Dirir.

He did not reveal the time and venue for the talks.

"It is not appropriate for political and security reasons to disclose the time and venue... but this invitation has been sent to both parties," Lebatt said.

It was still unclear whether the two groups had agreed to talk.

Negotiations between the generals and protest leaders collapsed in May over the make-up of the governing body and who should lead it -- a civilian or a soldier.

The mediators have come up with a compromise to resolve the crisis that has rocked Sudan for months, following the military ouster of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir in April on the back of widespread protests against his rule.

"The document has been presented to the two parties and they considered it as a good base for negotiations," Lebatt said.

But Ethiopian envoy Dirir cautioned that there remained "one point where opinions are conflicting and that is the sovereign council," referring to the planned governing body.

The blueprint drafted by the mediators calls for a civilian-majority governing body.

- New call for civil disobedience -
Protest leaders have exerted pressure on the generals since the June 3 raid -- carried out by men in military fatigues -- on the protest camp outside army headquarters in Khartoum.

The ruling military council insists it did not order the violent dispersal of the sit-in.

At least 136 people have been killed across the country since the raid, including more than 100 on June 3, according to doctors close to the umbrella protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change.

The health ministry says 78 people have died nationwide during the same period.

On Sunday, in what was the first mass protest against the generals since the raid, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets demanding civilian rule.

And on Monday protest leaders announced plans for a new mass protest across the country on July 13, to be followed a day later by a nationwide civil disobedience campaign.

The civil disobedience campaign, if observed, would be the second such agitation since the June 3 raid.

The first, held between June 9 and 11, paralysed the country, hitting an already dilapidated economy hard.

Protest leaders have been supported by Western nations in their call for civilian rule, while the generals appear to have backing of Arab allies like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, experts say.

The UAE on Tuesday called on Sudan's army and protesters to continue dialogue and avoid violence.

"It is important for dialogue to continue in Sudan away from disputes and towards an agreement regarding transition arrangements," Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter.

He said any transition should guarantee the establishment of a stable constitutional system.

"It is essential to avoid confrontation and escalation. It is clear that the opposition and the army need each other and need to reach agreement and avoid escalation of the crisis," Gargash said.