Sudan starts post-coup talks without key civilian bloc

The military takeover derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule that had been established following the 2019 ouster of president Omar al-Bashir.

This handout picture taken on 17 March 2022 and released by Presidential Press Unit Uganda shows General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Al–Burhan, the chairperson of the Transitional Sovereignty Council of the Republic of the Sudan, holding bilateral talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (not pictured) at the State House, in Entebbe. Picture: Handout / Presidential Press Unit of Uganda / AFP

Sudan on Wednesday began UN-facilitated direct talks between rival factions hoped to resolve a political crisis sparked by last year's coup, but with a critical civilian bloc refusing to participate.

"It is important to not let this moment slip," United Nations special representative Volker Perthes told reporters in Khartoum. "We are asking everybody to work with one another in good faith."

Sudan has been rocked by deepening unrest, near-weekly protests, a violent crackdown that has killed over 100 people and a tumbling economy since the October 25 power grab led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

The military takeover derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule that had been established following the 2019 ouster of president Omar al-Bashir.

The UN, African Union and regional bloc IGAD have since March been pushing for Sudanese-led talks to break the political stalemate.

On Tuesday, Burhan hailed the talks as a "historic opportunity" and called on political factions "to not stand as a stumbling block".

Burhan last month lifted the state of emergency imposed since the coup, and authorities have in recent weeks released multiple civilian leaders and pro-democracy activists.

Perthes welcomed the measures, but said "more can be done".

Wednesday's talks were attended by military officials, representatives from several political parties, and senior members from ex-rebel groups.

But Sudan's main civilian bloc, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), which was ousted from power in the coup, as well as the influential Umma party have refused to take part.

Members from the resistance committees, informal groups which emerged during the 2019 protests against Bashir and which have led calls for recent anti-coup rallies, were also absent.

The meeting "does not address the nature of the crisis" and any political process should work on "ending the coup and establishing a democratic civilian authority", the FFC said in a statement earlier this week.

The Umma Party said the objective of the talks was "undefined" and the political climate "was not fully prepared."

However, IGAD envoy Ismail Wais urged absent factions to join.

"They are always welcome and the door is open," Wais said.

"We... cannot imagine a political solution without the participation" of the absent factions, AU envoy Mohamed Lebatt said.