Sudanese factions agree constitutional declaration
KHARTOUM - Sudan's military council and the main opposition coalition have reached an agreement to usher in a new period of transitional government, the African Union mediator for Sudan said on Saturday.
The document, which outlines the powers and the relationships between the branches of the transitional government, comes after weeks of protracted negotiations brokered by the African Union and neighbouring Ethiopia amid sporadic bouts of violence in the capital Khartoum and other cities.
Sudan has been in a state of political turmoil since the army ousted veteran leader Omar al-Bashir in April, with dozens of demonstrators killed during street protests.
As news of the agreement emerged, people began gathering on Nile Street, a main avenue in Khartoum, honking car horns and ululating in celebration.
"We're victorious!" some people chanted while others sang the national anthem.
The main opposition coalition, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), welcomed the agreement as a "first step with more to follow" and pledged to complete the journey to "freedom, peace and justice" in Sudan.
But Magdi el-Gizouli, a Sudanese academic and a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute, said it was "a bit too early to speculate" about how the agreement would play out.
"Definitely there is pressure from all sides to sign something, the mediators are pushing, public opinion in Sudan wants an arrangement ... But how they will turn that into practice is a completely different question," he said.
AU mediator Mohamed Hassan Lebatt told a news conference in the early hours that representatives from both sides - civilian pro-democracy groups and the military - will continue talks on Saturday over the technical details of the accord.
The pro-democracy coalition issued a statement saying they would sign the document Sunday.
Legal and technical teams still need to establish a timeline for the declaration to come into effect and for the transitional government to be appointed.
Once the transitional government starts work, Sudan embarks on a three-year transition period expected to lead to elections.
Two key points of contention had been the role of Sudan's General Intelligence Service and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the country's most powerful paramilitary group.
According to a draft of the declaration, the intelligence service will report to the cabinet and the sovereign council, the body that will rule the country in the transitional period, while the RSF will fall under the general command of the armed forces.
But El-Gizouli doubted this would change anything since the RSF had always been formally under army control.
"This is a private militia, it is not under the authority of anybody other than its commander," he said. "This was the condition under Bashir and will probably be the case now."
The sides had previously agreed that the sovereign council will be comprised of 11 members: five officers selected by the military council, five civilians chosen by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition and another civilian to be agreed upon by both sides. Its first leader will be from the military.
The military leader would head the 11-member council for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for the next 18. There would also be a Cabinet of technocrats chosen by the protesters, as well as a 300-member legislative council, the makeup of which would be decided within three months.
Ebtisam Senhouri, a negotiator for the protesters, told a press conference that the pro-democracy movement would choose 67% of the legislative body, with the remainder chosen by political parties that were not part of al-Bashir's government.
The declaration states that the FFC will appoint a prime minister as soon as the document is signed. The prime minister will be tasked to form the government in consultation with the FFC. However, the defence and the interior ministers will be appointed by the military council during the transition.
The two sides had been divided over whether military leaders would be immune from prosecution over recent violence against protesters. It was not immediately clear whether they had resolved that dispute.
When the sovereign council is formed, the current ruling body, a transitional military council headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, RSF commander General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, will be dissolved.
The two sides came under renewed pressure this week after security forces opened fire on student protesters in the city of Obeid, leaving six people dead. At least nine troops from the RSF were arrested over the killings.
In June, security forces violently dispersed the protesters' main sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, killing dozens of people and plunging the fragile transition into crisis.
Protest leader Omar al-Dagir said the agreement announced Saturday would pave the way for appointments to the transitional bodies.
"The government will prioritize peace (with rebel groups) and an independent and fair investigation to reveal those who killed the martyrs and hold them accountable," he said.
Sudan has been convulsed by rebellions in its far-flung provinces for decades. Al-Bashir, who was jailed after being removed from power, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide stemming from the Darfur conflict in the early 2000s. The military has said he will not be extradited. Sudanese prosecutors have charged him with involvement in violence against protesters.
A priority for the transitional government during its first six months in power will be working towards peace with a number of armed groups active in the southern and western regions of the country, Satea al-Hajj, an FFC negotiator, said on Saturday.
Three of those armed groups are members of the FFC under the umbrella of the Revolutionary Front.
Sudan's stability is crucial for the security of a volatile region stretching from the Horn of Africa to Libya that is riven by conflict and power struggles.