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Western policy under pressure as activists reject UN-backed transition talks with General Burhan's regime

Resistance committees organise more protests as they demand military leaders quit power and face trial for mass killings

Pro-democracy activists led by the national network of Resistance Committees and the Sudan Professionals' Association (SPA) have rejected UN Envoy Volker Perthes's efforts to facilitate a political dialogue between civilians and General Abdel Fattah al Burhan's military regime.

Instead, they want the military to return to barracks immediately and for civilians to organise the writing of a new constitution and run the transition to multi-party elections in 2023. Talks on the country's future have become more urgent with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok's resignation on 2 January which has left the military rulers without any civilian interlocutors and made clear the mass rejection of Burhan's junta.

The UN Security Council was due to debate the crisis on 12 January. African members of the council and the African Union oppose Burhan's junta as do Britain, France and the United States. Its main defenders are Russia and China. Egypt, whose President Abdel Fattah el Sisi has close ties with Burhan, has been trying to use its membership of the AU to get it to reverse its opposition to the junta.

Over 60 people have been killed, some by anti-aircraft guns, during protests against the military's seizure of power on 25 October, but the Resistance Committees and the SPA have vowed to step up the pressure on the regime with more street demonstrations and strikes.

This challenges the role of the UN and those Western powers who suspended financial aid to Sudan worth over $700 million and talks to renegotiate the country's $70 billion foreign debt in the wake of the October coup.

One of two external groupings, the 'Quad' (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, the United States and Britain), is backing efforts by Perthes and the UN Interim Assistance Mission to Sudan to host talks between the military and civilian politicians.

The other, the European Union and the Troika (Norway, Britain and the US) gave more rhetorical support to the democracy activists, saying they ' …would not support a Prime Minister or a government appointed without the involvement of a broad range of civilian stakeholders.'

Unless the generals are prepared to make concessions, civilian involvement could prove elusive. So far, Burhan has been unable to find any civilian allies outside the circle of military collaborators or Islamist politicians linked to the regime of President Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir, ousted in April 2019.

Perthes and his team have been struggling to find ways to persuade the Resistance Committees and the SPA to join the UN-backed negotiations. David Satterfield, the US's new envoy to the Horn of Africa, is expected to join Perthes's effort and is coming under pressure to strengthen Washington's support of democracy activists in Sudan.

Kholood Khair, managing partner of Insight Strategies, and Cameron Hudson, a former chief of staff to the US envoy to Sudan, wrote in the Washington-based Foreign Policy that US President Joe Biden's administration should find ways '… for democracy and governance funding, all of which is now frozen, to be channelled through pro-democracy groups and other civilian structures that will not legitimise the coup.'

There is growing support in the US Congress for punitive sanctions against senior figures in Burhan's junta such as the head of the Directorate of General Intelligence Services and Deputy Commander of the Rapid Support Forces Abdul Rahim Hamdan Dagalo for their roles in organising the murderous crackdown on unarmed protestors following the October coup.

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