KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — 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, and the ruling military council said it would announce the findings of its own investigation on Saturday.
Sudan’s security forces violently swept away a camp in Khartoum on June 3 where demonstrators had been holding a sit-in, with over 100 people killed and hundreds wounded since then, according protest organizers. Authorities have offered a lower death toll: 61, including three security forces.
The violent beak-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.
“Events were moving forward in such a favorable direction after 35 years of tragedy for Sudan. And then without any expectation, on June 3rd, the world changed,” he said.
Sudan’s chief prosecutor Saturday rejected the idea of any outside investigation.
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.”
Protest organizers called for an internationally backed probe into the crackdown. But the ruling military council, which acknowledged that security forces committed violations, strongly rejected the idea. It said it had set up its own investigation and it would announce its findings on Saturday, vowing to hold those responsible accountable.
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 negations between the military council and protesters, who are represented by the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition of political groups.
“Both of the mediators are eminently qualified. … We continue to believe very strongly in this mediation and we are absolutely supportive both,” Nagy said.
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 and the last thing Egypt wants is another Libya on its southern border. The last thing Ethiopia wants is another Somalia on its northwestern border,” he said.
In the wake of the sit-in dispersal, negotiations between the military and protesters were called off and the FDFC 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.”
Deputy head of the military council Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo on Saturday 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.
There was no immediate response from protest leaders.
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 the 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 arranging the Colombia area,” he said in a press conference in Khartoum, referring to a problematic area near the sit-in.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud said former president al-Bashir would face trial on corruption accusations next week.
In May, al-Bashir was charged with involvement in killing protesters and incitement to kill protesters during the uprising that started in December, initially over economic shortages but which later turned into calls for his ouster. The military toppled him on April 11.
The ousted president also is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of war crimes and genocide linked to the Darfur conflict in the 2000s, but the military has said it would not extradite him to The Hague.
Magdy reported from Cairo.