Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is banking on the latest pressure from the African Union to push parties in the Sudan conflict to agree on an amicable political solution.
On Friday, Dr Abiy, as chairman of regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) travelled to Khartoum and met parties to the conflict that has raged for the past two months.
“These discussions are being held as part of mediation efforts underway by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed,” the Prime Minister’s office said.
The office said that Dr Abiy had met the leader of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, as well as officials of the Forces for Freedom and Change, an opposition grouping.
“He expressed Ethiopia’s commitment to fostering peace in the region and underlined that a prerequisite for restoring peace in Sudan is unity,” officials said.
Dr Abiy has recently had a mixed bag of results in mediation. He has tried Somalia and Eritrea where both countries’ leaders met in Mogadishu for the first time after a decade of accusations over support from the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab. He has also tried mediation in the tensions between Somalia and Kenya over a maritime boundary, without success.
In Sudan, however, Dr Abiy’s motivation could be to stop any further chaos that could spill into his country, as host to refugees.
His trip came as opposition protesters in Sudan considered declaring a parallel civilian government and asking the international community to recognise it.
Dr Abiy also appeared to take advantage of the suspension of Sudan by the African Union, until the military rulers give power to civilians.
Normally, an AU suspension is meant to limit a country’s participation on the international stage and force its leaders to return to democracy. And though the continental bloc may lack powers to punish more, its association with global powers like the UK, US and China, may send a signal to the UN Security Council to further isolate an errant member.
“We call for an agreed transfer of power to a civilian-led government as demanded by the people of Sudan.
“The people of Sudan deserve an orderly transition, led by civilians, that can establish the conditions for free and fair elections, rather than rushed elections imposed by the TMC’s security forces,” the UK, Norway and US said in a joint statement.
In Sudan, since the ouster of Omar al-Bashir in April, the TMC now led by Lt-Gen al-Burhan on one hand, and the opposition led by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) have bickered over which direction to take.
This week, the TMC cancelled all agreements with protesters and reduced the transitional period from two years to nine months. The Opposition rejected the move and were met with deadly violence from security forces.
The FFC say they doubt whether the elections can be held within the nine months because “there must be conditions to be met for any free and fair elections to take place.”
Those conditions, Dr Hassan Abdelati, the Secretary General of the Sudanese National Civic Forum told The EastAfrican, include; a census to determine how to delineate new constituencies, resettlement of the more than three million people displaced from their homes all over the country; and new electoral laws as well as a new constitution.
“These are impossible within the next nine months and if they go ahead with that plan, it will be a sham election,” said Dr Abdelati.
While cancelling talks for a civilian government with the opposition, Mr al-Burhan accused the FFC of prolonging the negotiations on power handover and trying to exclude the other political and military forces.
The TMC is now proving that it is likely to be more repressive than the al-Bashir regime. On June 3, some 35 people were killed by the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that was formed by the former president while 40 bodies were pulled from the Nile River — confirming previous reports that the militiamen threw their victims in the Nile.
The death toll in three days has now reached 108, more than the ones that were killed in the four months of protests against al-Bashir’s regime. Over 500 people who were wounded by bullets are now in the capital hospitals.
A day later, the security forces suspected to be members of the RSF arrested Yasir Arman, the secretary general of Sudan People's Liberation Army/ Movement-North (SPLM/A-N). The council had two weeks earlier asked Mr Arman to leave the country but he declined. Mr Arman contested against al-Bashir in the 2010 on the ticket of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North.
Dr Abdelati said that the council are not trustworthy. Because they invite people for discussions and change within 24 hours. He called on the AU to initiate investigations on human rights abuses and open talks with the council to transfer power to civilians.
Mr al-Burhan had also announced that a caretaker government will be formed to hold accountable former officials involved in corruption or other crimes.
The FFC have already announced the suspension of talks with the military council and called for a general strike to overthrow the junta.
In the meantime, China and Russia on June 5 blocked a bid at the United Nations Security Council to condemn the killing of civilians in Sudan. The UK and Germany had initiated a draft resolution that called on Sudan's military rulers and protesters to continue working together towards a consensual solution to the current crisis.
But China and Russia argued that the Security Council must wait for a report from the AU before taking any action against Sudan. Belgium, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Netherlands and Sweden expressed concerns that junta’ unilateral announcement to cease negotiations, appoint a government and call for elections within short period, could plunge the country into more chaos.