Sudan's Military and Opposition Agree On Joint Council

Soldiers stand in front of demonstrators in Khartoum on April 8, 2019.

Sudan's army rulers and opposition have reached a breakthrough in talks to form a joint civilian-military council. Thousands of protesters remain camped out in Khartoum calling for a transition to civilian rule.

Sudan's army rulers and an opposition coalition agreed on Saturday to form a joint civilian-military council to lead the country's transition following three decades of autocratic rule by President Omar al-Bashir.

Sudan's 10-member Transitional Military Council (TMC) has vowed to rule the country for two years after it ousted and arrested Bashir on April 11 following months of anti-government protests.

The opposition Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition of opposition groups led by the Sudanese Professionals Association that spearheaded the protests, has demanded the rapid turnover of power to a civilian council to transition the country to democracy.

The two sides sat down on Saturday after they agreed on Wednesday to form a committee to address political disputes amid swelling protests against the new military rulers. Wednesday's meeting was followed by the resignation of three military council members the opposition accused of killing protesters and representing the old regime.

Joint military-civilian council

After Saturday's meeting, sources said that an agreement was reached in principle to form a joint civilian-military council, but not on the division of seats in the new body.

"We agreed on a joint council between the civilian and the military," one of the leaders of the protest campaign, Ahmed al-Rabia, who was involved in the first talks of the new committee, told AFP. "We are now in consultation about what percentage of the council should be represented by civilians and how much by the military."

The apparent breakthrough came as thousands of protesters remained camped out in front of army headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, to apply pressure on the military to hand over power to civilians.

The opposition fears that the military and Bashir loyalists will continue to run the country, replacing one military dictatorship with another.

The TMC has arrested some former regime officials, announced anti-corruption measures and vowed to give some power to an executive civilian authority, but suggested in would retain ultimate sovereign power.

Sudan at the turning point: but what of the economy?

Foreign powers vie for influence

Western governments have backed the opposition's demands for civilian rule, but Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have provided economic aid to the military council led by Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Turkey and Qatar, both rivals of the Gulf Arab states, are also seeking to protect their influence in Sudan in the wake of the political shakeup.

Read more: The Sudanese military: A pawn of the Saudis?

Meanwhile, neighboring Egypt, whose President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi holds the current chairmanship of the African Union and is close to the Gulf Arab states, has said a political transition to civilian rule needs time to avoid chaos.

Bashir's fate uncertain

The protests started in mid-December over a deepening economic crisis, but quickly morphed into a sustained challenge against Bashir's leadership. He is being held in a prison in Khartoum alongside other former officials.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, but the military council has suggested he will be tried in Sudan.

cw/se (AFP, Reuters)

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