Sudan Rebel Leader Detained Amid Deadly Military Crackdown on Protests

100 reportedly killed in clashes between Sudanese military and protesters

A Sudanese protester gestures near burning tires in Khartoum, Sudan, June 4, 2019.
\ STRINGER/ REUTERS

A Sudanese rebel leader who returned from exile after the overthrow of president Omar al-Bashir was arrested on Wednesday, his organization said. 

Yasir Arman, the deputy head of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) group, came back last month and joined other opposition groups meeting the military leaders who ousted al-Bashir, according to local media reports. 

But those talks ground to a halt, then fell apart all together after security forces cracked down on protests this week. The death toll in the military's raids on protesters reportedly reached 100 on Wednesday.

Arman was detained by security services at his house in Khartoum, a spokesman for his group said, without giving any details on the reasons. 

No one was immediately available to comment from the security services. 

Arman had been sentenced to death in absentia for his part in a rebellion against al-Bashir's government that started in the Sudanese state of Blue Nile in 2011. 

SPLM-N includes many fighters who sided with South Sudanese rebels in decades of civil war fueled by ethnicity, oil and ideology that ended in a 2005 peace deal. But they were left inside Sudan when that agreement paved the way to the secession of South Sudan in 2011.

Bodies pulled from the Nile 

At least 40 bodies were pulled from the Nile River in Khartoum, organizers of pro-democracy protests said Wednesday, bringing the death toll since the violent dispersal of a sit-in outside the military's headquarters to 100.

The Sudan Doctors' Committee said Wednesday the bodies were pulled out a day earlier, and that they were taken by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces to an unknown location. The sit-in was broken up by the military on Monday.

One activist, Amal al-Zein, said the number could be even higher. She said dozens of bodies had been pulled from the Nile in different places near the sit-in area and were taken to a hospital morgue.

"Some bodies have wounds from bullets, others seemed to have beaten and thrown in the Nile," she said.

The doctors' committee, the medical arm of the Sudanese Professionals Association, also said that at least 326 people have been wounded in clashes in the past two days.

Sudanese opposition leaders dismissed a call Wednesday for talks with the ruling generals, saying the military cannot be serious about negotiations while troops keep shooting and killing protesters.

A spokesman for the protesters said they would instead continue their pro-democracy campaign to pressure the military to hand over power to a civilian authority.

Earlier Wednesday, the head of the military council, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, said the generals were ready to resume negotiations and that there would be "no restrictions" in talks with the leaders behind the months-long street protests.

"We open our hands to negotiations with all parties ... for the interest of the nation," Burhan said, adding that those responsible for the violent beak-up of the demonstrators' sit-in in the capital, Khartoum, would be held accountable.

The motives for Burhan's about-face — if sincere — were not immediately clear. Burhan had earlier cut the negotiations and canceled all agreed-on points between the military and the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, an alliance which represents the protesters.

Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, which is also part of the alliance and which is leading the demonstrations, said the protesters "totally reject" Burhan's call.

"This call is not serious," al-Mustafa told The Associated Press. "Burhan and those under him have killed the Sudanese and are still doing it. Their vehicles patrol the streets, firing at people."

"We will continue in our protests, resistance, strike and total civil disobedience," he added.

Street battles 

The mounting casualties are the latest challenge to the protest movement, which now aims to show it can keep up pressure in the streets after its central rallying point — the weeks-long sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum — was wiped out on Monday.

In April, the movement succeeded in forcing the military to remove Sudan's longtime strongman, al-Bashir. It then kept its sit-in going, demanding that the generals who took power hand over authority to civilians.

Activists Mohammed Najib and Hashim al-Sudani said there were street battles late Tuesday and early Wednesday in Khartoum's Bahri and Buri districts between protesters and security forces, mainly from the RSF.

"In Buri, there were lots of shootings and tear gas," al-Sudani said. "They tried to force people into narrow streets" to beat them.

The opposition Congress Party reported more protests on Wednesday, posting footage showing hundreds of people marching in Omdurman.

On Monday, members of the RSF, which human rights groups say carried out rapes, torture and killings of civilians in Sudan's Darfur region, and other troops waded into the protest camp outside the military's headquarters in Khartoum, opening fire and burning down tents. Other troops crushed two smaller sit-ins organized by the protesters elsewhere.

After al-Bashir's ouster, for weeks, the military and protest leaders negotiated over the makeup of a transitional council meant to run the country for three years before elections. Protesters demand that civilians dominate the council, but the generals resisted.

The crackdown put an end to the relative peace that surrounded the talks and signaled the military had lost patience with activists' demands, putting the two sides on the path of a potentially longer confrontation with increasing violence.

Burhan's call for negotiations marked a significant change from his televised speech only a day earlier, when he blamed protest leaders for the volatile situation, accusing them of drawing out negotiations and trying to exclude some "political and security forces" from taking part in any transitional government.

He also announced Tuesday that the military would unilaterally form an interim government and hold elections sooner, within seven to nine months, under international supervision. Protesters had also rejected that because it would put the military in charge of running the election.

Since Monday, tensions have remained high in Khartoum and elsewhere as demonstrators staged scattered rallies and blocked main roads with barricades. Security forces have been seen in online videos, patrolling Khartoum districts.

Madani Abbas Madani, a leading activist, said the protesters would continue an open-ended civil disobedience campaign until the overthrow of the ruling military council.

"What happened on Monday was a systematic and planned attempt to impose repression on the Sudanese people," he said.

In a joint statement, the U.S., Norway and Britain have condemned the security forces' crackdown. The statement, released late Tuesday, said Sudan's military council "put the transition process and peace in Sudan in jeopardy" by ordering attacks on protesters.