CAIRO (AP) — Sudanese prosecutors on Saturday said the country’s ruling generals did not order the deadly break-up of a protest camp last month, instead blaming the widely condemned dispersal on paramilitary forces who exceeded their orders.
Sudanese protest leaders disputed the prosecutors’ conclusion, saying the decision to raze the sit-in was made at the highest levels of the military council.
On June 3, Sudan’s security forces violently swept away a protest camp located in front of the military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum. This marked an alarming turn in the standoff between the military and the protesters, who had been holding a sit-in to pressure the military council to hand power over to civilians. Sudan’s army ousted autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in April amid nationwide protests against his nearly 30-year rule.
According to the protesters, at least 128 people have been killed and hundreds wounded during the sit-in dispersal and the subsequent crackdown. However, military-backed health authorities say only 61 have died, including three security forces. In the days following the dispersal, protest organizers said more than 40 bodies of people slain by security forces were pulled from the Nile River.
In a televised press conference in Khartoum, prosecutor Fathel-Rahman Said announced that security forces were told only to clear a lawless area close to the protest camp, not the sit-in itself.
He said troops from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces moved to disperse the protest camp on their own initiative.
In the days leading up to the dispersal, the military said the lawless area near the camp had become a haven for “drug dealers and other criminals.”
Said, who heads a committee investigating the dispersal, said eight RSF officers, including a major general, have been accused of crimes against humanity. He did not elaborate on how the investigation would proceed against the accused officers.
The prosecutor said that in the week following the dispersal, a crackdown in Khartoum killed at least 87 people, including 17 inside the sit-in area. He said the investigation found there were no rapes or “deaths resulting from burning” during the dispersal. The protest movement has said such acts took place.
The opposition Sudanese Congress party, which is part of the protest movement, said in a statement that security forces dispersed several sit-ins across the country at the same time on June 3. The party said this shows the break-up was carried out based on a “political decision” made by the authorities.
The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which has been spearheading the protests since December, also rejected the prosecutors’ conclusion as “shocking.”
Ismael al-Taj, a SPA leader, told a press conference that the prosecutors’ report sought to clear the military council of wrongdoing.
He said the protest movement had rejected the investigation and that the prosecutors were loyal to al-Bashir’s government.
The announcement of the investigation came as the military council and the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, which represents the protesters, were preparing to resume talks over a contentious constitutional document, part of a power-deal aiming at ending the political deadlock.
Earlier this month, the two sides reached a power-sharing agreement, including a timetable for a transition to civilian rule. The deal would establish a joint civilian-military sovereign council that would rule Sudan for a little over three years while elections are organized.
They signed the political part of the deal, which also include a FDFC-appointed cabinet, and an independent probe into the crackdown against protesters.