Talks aiming at ending Sudan’s ongoing political deadlock began Wednesday, the United Nations said, although the country's main pro-democracy alliance is boycotting them over a continued police crackdown on those protesting last October's military coup.
The joint peace effort is brokered by the UN political mission in Sudan, the African Union, and the eight-nation east African regional group Intergovernmental Authority in Development, IGAD. The effort aims to bring the generals and an array of political and protest groups to the negotiating table.
The military’s takeover has upended Sudan’s short-lived fragile democratic transition and plunged the East African nation into turmoil. Sudan had been transiting to democracy after nearly three decades of repression and international isolation under president Omar al-Bashir. A popular uprising pushed the military to remove Bashir in April 2019.
The UN, AU and IGAD launched the process Wednesday with a technical meeting involving the military and civilians. It came after months of separate discussions with an array of groups including the military and the pro-democracy movement.
The UN envoy for Sudan, Volker Perthes, the process would discuss a "transitional program," including the appointment of a civilian prime minister and arrangements for drafting a permanent constitution and elections at the end of the transition.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the leader of the coup who also heads the ruling sovereign council, welcomed the talks as a "historic opportunity to complete the transitional phase."
In a speech to the nation late Tuesday, he urged all factions to take part in the talks, vowing that the military will implement their outcome.
"We are fully committed to work with everybody to end the transitional period as soon as possible with fair and transparent elections," he said.
However, The Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, or FDFC - an alliance of political parties and protest groups - is boycotting the meeting. They say the talks should lead to "an end to the coup and the establishment of a civilian democratic authority." They also criticized the participation of pro-military groups and Islamists who had been allied with Bashir's government.
The alliance also called for the implementation of trust-building measures, including the release of coup-related detainees, and the ending of violence against protesters.
The talks come as the violent crackdown on anti-coup protests continued in the capital of Khartoum. A five-year-old was killed Tuesday when a police vehicle ran her over while chasing protesters. That brought the total deaths among protesters since October to at least 101, according to a medical group tracking the casualties.
The coup has triggered near-daily street protests, which authorities have met with a deadly crackdown. Hundreds of people, including prominent politicians and activists, have been detained since the coup, although many have been released recently as part of trust-building measures.
Under concerted international pressure, the military leaders late last month lifted the state of emergency they had declared following the coup.