US envoy pushes for 'peaceful' Sudan solution

Khartoum (AFP) –


A US special envoy was set to meet Sudan's top military ruler Thursday to push for a "peaceful" solution to the standoff between protesters and generals following a deadly crackdown on demonstrators.

The diplomatic push comes after protesters demanding civilian rule called off a nationwide civil disobedience campaign and agreed to resume talks with the generals who ousted veteran leader Omar al-Bashir in April.

Traffic jams returned to downtown Khartoum and some shops in the capital's famous gold market began to reopen on Thursday as more residents and office employees ventured out.

Fewer troops and members of the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, who protesters and rights groups accuse of leading the June 3 crackdown on demonstrators, were on the streets, according to an AFP correspondent who toured parts of the capital.

Several parts of the city suffered electricity cuts early on Thursday, while internet services remained erratic.

"Today is my first day to work after the campaign ended but I'm not in the mood to work," said Suheir Hassan, an employee at a government office.

"Because, on my way I passed by the sit-in area and remembered that all those voices who used to chant revolutionary slogans have now disappeared."

Protesters ended their disobedience campaign late on Tuesday and agreed to hold fresh talks with the ruling generals following mediation led by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Demonstrators had launched the strike after men in military fatigues launched a brutal crackdown on a sit-in by thousands of people outside the army headquarters last week, killing dozens of people.

- Protesters brief US envoys -

In a bid to reach a swift solution to the crisis, Washington, which has consistently pushed for civilian-led rule following Bashir's ouster, on Wednesday appointed veteran diplomat Donald Booth as special envoy to Sudan.

Booth was due to hold talks with General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the ruling military council, to help craft a "peaceful solution" to the crisis that has rocked the northeast African country, Washington said.

Booth, who previously served as special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan during the administration of former president Barack Obama, arrived in Khartoum on Wednesday along with Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs Tibor Nagy.

He and Nagy held a series of meetings with Sudanese officials and protest leaders.

The Alliance for Freedom and Change umbrella protest movement said that its leaders briefed the two US officials on the need for a transparent investigation in the June 3 killings.

They also called for the withdrawal of "militias" from the streets in Khartoum and other towns, an end to the internet blockade and establishment of a civilian administration, it said in a statement.

Protest leader Madani Abbas Madani told reporters that the US officials told them that Washington "backed the Ethiopian mediation" to arrive at a solution.

Booth and Nagy are later expected to travel to Addis Ababa to discuss the Sudan crisis with Ethiopian leaders and the African Union.

- Demand for guarantees -

On Thursday, the US diplomats are also expected to meet diplomats of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt in Khartoum.

Experts say the three regional Arab nations appear to back the generals even as Western countries push for a civilian-led administration in Sudan.

Days after Bashir's overthrow, Saudi Arabia and the UAE offered a three-billion-dollar aid package to Khartoum, including a $500 million cash injection into the central bank to help support the Sudanese pound which has plunged since last year against the dollar.

It was the country's worsening economic crisis that first triggered the protests against Bashir's iron-fisted rule.

Talks between the protest leaders and generals broke down in mid-May because the two sides disagreed on who should lead a new governing body -- a civilian or a soldier.

Relations worsened following the crackdown, with protest leaders now insisting that any agreement reached with the generals needs "regional and international" guarantees for it to be implemented.

Sudan has been led by a military council since the generals ousted Bashir on April 11 after months of nationwide protests against his three-decade rule.

Protesters remained encamped outside the military headquarters in Khartoum for weeks afterwards demanding civilian rule, until the June 3 crackdown.

Around 120 people have been killed since then, according to doctors close to the protesters. The health ministry has acknowledged 61 people died nationwide.