US threatens sanctions against Sudanese who block return to democracy

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States on Tuesday called for a swift transition from military to civilian rule in Sudan and threatened sanctions against anyone who hinders or blocks the transition to democracy.

Richard Mills, US deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said Washington supported a joint effort by the UN political mission in Sudan, the African Union and the regional group of eight nations IGAD to facilitate a transition to democracy led by Sudan.

Speaking before the Security Council, he strongly encouraged Sudanese civilians and military to use this process to move quickly “on the framework of a transitional government led by civilians”.

Sudan has been in turmoil since an October military coup halted its short-lived transition to democracy after three decades of repressive rule by strongman Omar al-Bashir. Al-Bashir and his Islamist-backed government were overthrown in a popular uprising in April 2019.

The military takeover sparked protests demanding a return to civilian rule and a crackdown on protesters by security forces. The coup also sent Sudan’s already fragile economy into a tailspin, with living conditions rapidly deteriorating.

The two main protest groups, the Sudanese Professionals Association and the Resistance Committees, have long demanded the removal of the army from power and the establishment of an all-civilian government.

The generals say they will hand over power only to an elected administration. They say elections will be held in July 2023 as provided for in a constitutional document governing the transition period.

Mills expressed hope that the dialogue facilitated by the UN, AU and the IGAD East African regional group “will be successful and soon”.

“The transfer of power to a civilian-led government will allow the resumption of international financial support and development assistance – support that is desperately needed,” the US envoy said. “To ensure that progress occurs and that the people of Sudan are well served, we are prepared to impose consequences on those who obstruct or spoil Sudan’s transition to democracy.”

In UN diplomatic parlance, “consequences” means sanctions.

The UN Special Representative for Sudan, Volker Perthes, was asked if he thought sanctions would help, and he replied: “I believe more in incentives than sanctions.

From late March to today, he said, Sudanese authorities have released at least 86 detainees, including high-level officials and activists, but at least 111 people are believed to still be held in Khartoum, Port Sudan and elsewhere.

While violence by security forces against protesters appears to have decreased overall, another protester was killed on Saturday, bringing the total number to 96, he said.

“If authorities are to build trust, it is essential that those responsible for the violence against protesters be held accountable,” Perthes said.

Following the initial release of the detainees and the reduction in violence, Perthes said, the UN, AU and IGAD on May 12 began proxy talks with the parties on key issues. These include the mandate and composition of the main constitutional bodies, the future relationship between military and civilian components, as well as the mechanism and criteria for selecting a prime minister, he said.

Reaching an agreement on these issues, Perthes said, “will help chart the way out of the crisis and fill the institutional void after the coup.”

The UN envoy was also cautious.

“Let’s be clear: there are also spoilers who don’t want a peaceful transition to democracy, or refuse a solution through dialogue,” Perthes said. “The Sudanese parties should not allow such spoilers to undermine the opportunity to find a negotiated exit from the crisis.”

Sudan’s new ambassador to the UN, Al-Harith Mohamed, told the council, “We continue to work in Sudan to complete the political transition and move towards democracy, freedom, peace and justice.”

He said the government is involved in the initiative of the UN, AU and IGAD to form a national consensus and have a civilian government. “And in that case, the army will cede power to the government,” but the ultimate goal is to have democratic elections, he said.