President Donald Trump said Monday he was ready to remove Sudan from a US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, a major goal of Khartoum, after a compensation deal over past attacks.
“At long last, JUSTICE for the American people and BIG step for Sudan!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Trump said that Sudan’s year-old transitional government had agreed to a $335 million package to compensate US victims of attacks and their families.
“Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list,” Trump said.
Sudan is one of four nations branded by Washington as a state sponsor of terrorism along with Iran, North Korea, and Syria — severely impeding economic development, with few major foreign investors willing to run afoul of US laws.
Sudan has been seeking for years to remove the designation, a legacy of former dictator Omar al-Bashir’s welcome of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in the 1990s.
The conflict-ridden nation experienced a historic shift last year as Bashir was ousted in the face of youth-led street protests and a civilian-backed transitional government was later installed.
While Trump has the authority to remove Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, both the administration and lawmakers have been seeking a package that would compensate victims and families over attacks — namely Al-Qaeda’s 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The Trump administration, seeing leverage as it eyed removing the designation, has also leaned on Sudan to recognize Israel, following the lead of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain
With weeks to go before US elections, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is racing to make a breakthrough with Sudan that he hopes could also benefit Israel.
Sudan’s new civilian-led government is urgently seeking to be removed from the US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, and is seen by Washington as open to becoming the latest Arab state to recognize Israel — a major cause for President Donald Trump’s electoral base.
“The United States has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that compensation is finally provided to victims of the 1998 Al-Qaeda-backed terrorist attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania,” Pompeo wrote in a letter to senators that was confirmed by congressional sources.
“We also have a unique and narrow window to support the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan that has finally rid itself of the Islamist dictatorship that previously led that country.”
Sudan is one of four nations listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States, severely impeding investment as businesses worry of legal risks in dealing with the country.
The designation dates back to 1993 when then strongman Omar al-Bashir welcomed Islamists including Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al-Qaeda, which carried out the embassy attacks that claimed more than 200 lives.
Washington had been gradually reconciling with Bashir, who agreed to independence for mostly Christian South Sudan.
But Sudan was transformed last year when Bashir was deposed following a wave of youth-led protests. British-educated economist Abdalla Hamdok has become the new prime minister with a reformist mandate in a transitional arrangement with the military.
– Question for Congress –
Sudan’s delisting has been held up by a dispute over a package of some $335 million that Khartoum would pay as compensation to victims’ families and survivors of the embassy attacks.
Completing a compensation package “is one of the highest priorities for the Department of State,” a spokesperson said.
In his letter, Pompeo said it was “very likely” that an agreement on claims and on delisting Sudan from the terror blacklist would be completed by the end of October — days before the November 3 election.
But Congress also needs to pass legislation to provide Sudan immunity from further claims.
Senate Democrats are divided in part because the draft package would provide more money to US citizens than Africans, who made up the bulk of the victims — an arrangement some call discriminatory but others say is realistic and in keeping with precedent.
Some lawmakers also want further discussion on compensation for other attacks by Al-Qaeda, notably the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen.
Why the sudden push by Pompeo, who in his more than two years as America’s top diplomat has rarely seemed preoccupied by Africa?
Sudan has hinted at a willingness to engage Israel, whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in February met Khartoum’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in Uganda.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last month recognized Israel, a coup for the Jewish state and a signature foreign policy win for Trump.
Pompeo briefly stopped in Khartoum in late August in the first visit there by a US secretary of state in 15 years.
Hamdok demurred in his meeting with Pompeo, saying that his transitional government, which is set to rule until 2022 elections, did not have a mandate to normalize relations with Israel — in what would be a major about-face for a country until recently considered Islamist-run.
But some observers believe there can still be forward movement on relations with Israel, especially with the prospect of removal from the terror blacklist.
Sudan’s government and rebel forces have agreed a landmark deal aimed at ending decades of war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed.
After an initialling ceremony on August 31, rebel commanders and the transitional government, which took power after the toppling of hardline ruler Omar al-Bashir last year, are set to sign a “final” deal on October 2.
– Who are the rebels? –
The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) is a coalition of five rebel groups and four political movements.
They come from the vast western region of Darfur, at war since 2003, as well as South Kordofan and Blue Nile states in the country’s south.
Rebels there took up arms in 2011 following a pause in the wake of Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war.
– What does the deal promise? –
The agreement deals with peace, justice, rights and the “fair distribution of authority (and) wealth.”
Sudan’s rebels are largely drawn from minority groups that chafed from marginalisation under Bashir’s regime.
The deal promises to end discrimination, including by making minority languages official.
It also protects freedom of religion, so that Christians and followers of local religions can worship in peace in the mainly Muslim nation.
– What happens first? –
Fighting stops. Both sides have agreed to a permanent cease-fire.
Rebel fighters will be slowly incorporated into joint units with government security forces.
Timelines have been set for the training and establishment of integrated forces.
– How is power shared? –
Rebels will get three seats in the sovereign council, the transitional government’s top body.
They will also get a quarter of cabinet posts and a quarter of seats in the 300-member transitional parliament.
Women must make up at least 40 percent of government posts at all levels.
Rebels will also have a role in state governments.
Local authorities will operate with autonomy from Khartoum, raising their own taxes and managing the natural resources of their regions.
– Who faces trial? –
Old government leaders, not rebels.
The deal provides for an amnesty for political leaders and rebel commanders.
But ex-officials of the former regime must stand trial — including Bashir.
The former strongman, already jailed for corruption, is on trial along with several former ministers for seizing power in a 1989 coup.
The deal calls for the formation of a special court for crimes in Darfur, where fighting killed 300,000 people.
Bashir is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in the western region.
The government agreed in February that Bashir should face the ICC, but domestic hearings may come first.
– What will holdout rebels do? –
If rebels fight on, the deal could be derailed.
One wing of the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) has refused to lay down arms.
Its leader Abdelwahid Nour has lived abroad for several years, including in Paris, but he is understood to have retained support on the ground.
Another key rebel force, led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, also rejected the August deal, but days later Hilu signed a separate agreement with the government.
A veteran guerilla fighter who leads a faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), he had long fought for a secular state to replace the Islamist regime of Bashir.
Hilu’s stronghold in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan has a significant Christian community among its mainly non-Arab population.
Under the separate deal, his forces will retain their guns for “self-protection”, until Sudan’s constitution is changed to separate religion and government.
It is unclear whether Hilu will take part in the signing ceremony on October 2.
– How will it help refugees? –
Millions of Sudanese were forced from their homes by the war, either becoming refugees in neighbouring nations or living in squalid camps within Sudan.
The deal provides for their voluntary return home, with full rights like any other Sudanese citizen.
Aid groups will also get access to the areas where they are returning.
During the conflict, humanitarian agencies were often blocked from large areas with acute needs.
– Will it work? –
Analysts are hopeful, but many have seen similar deals crumble before.
Turning rebels into regular troops brings together old foes in often uneasy joint forces.
Building peace and trust after so long at war takes time.
As people return home after years away, there are fears of fresh conflict if the current occupants refuse to return the property.
Clashes have erupted in Darfur in recent weeks.
Still, the deal is “a hugely significant sign of progress,” said Jonas Horner, from the International Crisis Group think tank.
“But it is also far from comprehensive and only represents a first step towards peace,” Horner added.
“Significant hurdles remain in the way of its implementation.”
Sudan on Saturday declared a three-month national state of emergency after record-breaking torrential floods that cost 99 lives.
“A nationwide three-month state of emergency has been announced as Sudan is considered a natural disaster zone,” the interior ministry said on social media.
Floods caused by more than a month of heavy rains have killed 99 people, injured 46, and left 100,000 damaged properties in their wake, one of the worst natural disasters in decades, according to state news agency SUNA.
North Darfur in the country’s west and Sennar state in the south were among the hardest-hit areas.
Heavy rains usually fall in Sudan from June to October, and the country faces severe flooding every year.
“The Blue Nile has reached an all-time high since records began more than a century ago,” said the irrigation and water ministry last week.
The latest report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan said Thursday that over 380,000 people had already been “affected” by this year’s floods.
The whole flooding season in 2019 affected 400,000 people, according to an OCHA spokesperson.
Sudan said Wednesday that government and rebel leaders had met to begin implementing a deal that aims to end a war in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed.
Rebel commanders from the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) and the transitional government met face-to-face on Tuesday, one day after striking the deal, state news agency SUNA said.
“This was the first joint meeting after the inking of the accord,” said Alhadi Idris, the head of the SRF rebel coalition, SUNA reported.
“We discussed in this meeting what will happen going forward,” Idris said, adding that there were “still issues related to the timeline to implement the deal”.
The SRF, founded in 2011, is an alliance of five armed rebel groups and four political movements from the vast western region of Darfur, and the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
“Our priorities now are economic progress and humanitarian issues related to people displaced by the conflicts,” said Minni Minawi, who leads a faction of the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Movement.
Monday’s peace deal covers issues around security, land ownership, transitional justice, power sharing and the return of people who fled their homes because of fighting.
It also provides for the dismantling of rebel forces and the integration of the fighters into the national army.
Sudan’s transitional government, which took power after the April 2019 ouster of hardline leader Omar al-Bashir, has made forging peace with rebel groups a priority.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict, where fighting killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million others, according to the UN.
The former president, who is in jail in Khartoum convicted of corruption, is now on trial for the 1989 coup in which he grabbed power.
Sudan’s rebels are largely drawn from non-Arab minority groups that long railed against Arab domination of the government in Khartoum under Bashir.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said on Tuesday that the deal “creates a new Sudanese state, and remedies all injustices of the past”, as he appealed to two rebel holdout movements who refused to take part.
Previous peace accords in Sudan, including one signed in Nigeria in 2006 and another signed in Qatar in 2010, have fallen through.
Sudan’s main rebel alliance has agreed a peace deal with the government aimed at ending 17 years of conflict, official news agency SUNA said Sunday.
The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of rebel groups from the western region of Darfur and the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, inked a peace agreement with the government late on Saturday.
A formal signing ceremony is planned for Monday in Juba, the capital of neighbouring South Sudan, which has hosted and helped mediate the long-running talks since late 2019.
Senior government officials and rebel leaders “signed their initials on protocols on security arrangements” and other issues late Saturday, SUNA reported.
However, two key holdout rebel forces have refused to take part in the deal.
The final agreement covers key issues around security, land ownership, transitional justice, power sharing, and the return of people who fled their homes due to war.
It also provides for the dismantling of rebel forces and the integration of their fighters into the national army.
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and several ministers flew to Juba on Sunday, the news agency said, where he met with South Sudan President Salva Kiir.
– ‘Start of peace-building’ –
Hamdok said that finding a deal had taken longer than first hoped after a initial agreement in September 2019.
“At the Juba declaration in September, everyone expected peace to be signed within two or three months, but …we realised that the questions were of one great complexity,” Hamdok said.
“However, we were able to accomplish this great work, and this is the start of peace-building.”
The rebel forces took up arms against what they said was the economic and political marginalisation by the government in Khartoum.
They are largely drawn from non-Arab minority groups that long railed against Arab domination of successive governments in Khartoum, including that of toppled autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
About 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since rebels took up arms there in 2003, according to the United Nations.
Conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile erupted in 2011, following unresolved issues from bitter fighting there in Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war.
Forging peace with rebels has been a cornerstone of Sudan’s transitional government, which came to power in the months after Bashir’s overthrow in April 2019 on the back of mass protests against his rule.
Two movements rejected part of the deal — a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement, led by Abdelwahid Nour, and a wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), headed by Abdelaziz al-Hilu.
Previous peace accords in Sudan, including one signed in Nigeria in 2006 and another signed in Qatar in 2010, have fallen through over the years.
UN officials reported a fresh massacre of more than 60 people in Sudan’s West Darfur, as the country’s prime minister promised fresh troops for the conflict-stricken region.
Attackers targeted members of the local Masalit community, looting and burning houses and part of the local market, a statement said.
Around 500 armed men attacked Masteri Town, north of Beida, in Darfur on Saturday afternoon, said the Sunday statement from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“This was one of the latest of a series of security incidents reported over the last week that left several villages and houses burned, markets and shops looted, and infrastructure damaged,” said the statement, from the OCHA’s Khartoum office.
Following Saturday’s attack on Masteri, around 500 local people staged a protest demanding more protection from the authorities.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said the government would send security forces to conflict-stricken Darfur to “protect citizens and the farming season.”
The force will include army and police, he said in a statement after he met a delegation of women from the region.
On Friday, armed men drove into a village and killed 20 civilians returning to their fields for the first time in years, an eyewitness and a tribal chief told AFP.
Darfur has been devastated since 2003 by a conflict between ethnic minority rebels and forces loyal to now ousted president Omar al-Bashir, including the feared Janjaweed militia, mainly recruited from Arab pastoralist tribes.
A government scorched-earth campaign to crush the rebels left 300,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million.
Violence in Darfur has eased since Bashir’s ouster by the army amid mass protests against his rule last year.
The government and a coalition of nine rebel groups, including factions from the region, signed a preliminary peace deal in January.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in the conflict.
Farmers displaced by the fighting had since started to return to their land under a government-sponsored deal reached two months ago, in time for the July-November planting season.
But the bloodshed has continued, particularly over land rights, according to expert Adam Mohammad.
“The question of land is one cause of the conflict,” he said.
“During the war, peasants fled their lands and villages to camps, and nomads replaced them and settled there.”
The recent killings have targeted the African farming communities in conflict with the nomadic Arab tribes over the land.
In late June and early July, hundreds of protesters camped for days outside a government building in the Central Darfur town of Nertiti to demand that the government beef up security after multiple killings and looting incidents on farmland and properties.
After Saturday’s attack on Masteri, around 500 local people staged their own protest demanding more protection.
“The escalation of violence in different parts of Darfur region is leading to increased displacement, compromising the agricultural season, causing loss of lives and livelihoods and driving growing humanitarian needs,” said the OCHA statement.
Sudan’s government on Wednesday said it will devalue its currency and cut fuel subsidies due to a huge budget deficit and an economic crisis aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“State revenues have dropped by 40 percent and this has created a huge deficit in the budget,” acting Finance Minister Hiba Mohammed said in a statement released by the government.
“The government must take urgent measures and change the official rate of the (Sudanese) pound,” she added.
The pound’s official rate is 55 to the US dollar, compared to 140 on the black market.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok later announced at a news conference that the government would “gradually cut subsidies on petrol and diesel”.
But he said that subsidies on medicine, electricity, bread and cooking gas would remain in place.
Sudan’s transitional government has grappled with an acute economic crisis since its formation last year following the army’s ouster of veteran dictator Omar al-Bashir amid huge street protests.
Annual inflation reached 136 percent in June and that same month tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Khartoum and other cities to demand economic reform.
The country’s economic woes have seen citizens queue for hours to buy essential foods and fuel.
“The government must take the necessary measures to mitigate the effect of the coronavirus pandemic” on the economy, Mohammed said.
On Sunday the UN made an urgent appeal for $283 million to help Sudan tackle the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences, warning that millions could face hunger.
“COVID-19 arrived in Sudan at a time when an increasing part of the population was already struggling to meet their basic needs and the health system was already under extreme stress,” the UN’s Sudan humanitarian coordinator Gwi-Yeop Son said on Sunday.
“Unless we act now, we should be prepared for a series of human tragedies,” she said.
Sudan has officially registered more than 11,000 cases of the COVID-19 illness and 706 deaths.
Sudan’s former autocratic president Omar al-Bashir, ousted amid a popular pro-democracy uprising last year, faces trial from Tuesday over the military coup that brought him to power more than three decades ago.
Bashir, 76, who is already behind bars for corruption, could face the death penalty if convicted over his 1989 coup against the democratically elected government of prime minister Sadek al-Mahdi.
The Khartoum trial starting at 0800 GMT against him and 16 co-accused comes as Sudan’s post-revolution transitional government has launched a series of reforms in hopes of fully rejoining the international community.
Sudan has also pledged to hand over Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face trial on war crimes and genocide charges related to the Darfur conflict, which left 300,000 people dead and millions displaced in a scorched earth campaign against a 2003 insurgency.
It is the first time in the modern history of the Arab world that the architect of a coup goes on trial, although the man dubbed the true brain behind the military overthrow, Hassan Turabi of the National Islamic Front, died in 2016.
“This trial will be a warning to anyone who tries to destroy the constitutional system,” said Moaz Hadra, one of the lawyers who led the push to bring the case to court.
“This will safeguard Sudanese democracy. In this way, we hope to bring an end to the era of putsches in Sudan.”
Bashir will be in the dock with 10 military personnel and six civilians, including his former vice presidents Ali Osman Taha and Bakri Hassan Saleh, as well as former ministers and governors.
They are all accused of having plotted the June 30, 1989 coup when the army arrested Sudan’s political leaders, suspended parliament and other state bodies, closed the airport and announced the putsch on the radio.
Bashir, who was later elevated to the rank of general, stayed in power for 30 years before being overthrown on April 11 last year after several months of unprecedented, youth-led street demonstrations.
First coup trial
Hadra told AFP that Bashir and Saleh “have totally refused to cooperate with the commission of enquiry, but they will be present at the court”.
The lawyer said the accused are charged under crimes including Chapter 96 of the 1983 Penal Code, which had been abolished by Bashir, and which carries the death penalty for attempting to destroy the constitutional order.
Hadra said that “this is the first time someone who launches a coup will be brought to justice” in Sudan, which has seen three coups d’etat since its 1956 independence from Britain.
One of the 150 defence lawyers, Hashem al-Gali, charged that Bashir and the others would face “a political trial” being held “in a hostile environment on the part of the judicial system against the defendants”.
“In fact, this trial is aimed at the Islamic movement and its sole purpose is to present it as a terrorist movement, but we have prepared our defence and we will prove the contrary,” Gali stressed.
He argued Bashir’s overthrow of Mahdi took place so long ago that it was beyond the statute of limitations and should therefore no longer be dealt with by a court.
Former police general Salah Mattar, who was head of internal security in 1989, welcomed the trial, recounting how he had anticipated the overthrow.
“I had observed movements and meetings of the National Islamic Front six months before the coup and made a report to interior minister Mubarak al-Mahdi, but he ignored it,” Mattar recounted to AFP.
“After the coup I was chased out with six high-ranking police officers.”
The trial takes place at a time when Sudan’s joint civilian-military transitional government is introducing a host of reforms and has relaunched peace talks with rebel groups.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s administration has recently abolished rules restricting women’s movements, outlawed the practice of female genital mutilation, scrapped a law against apostasy and relaxed a ban on alcohol.
Khartoum hopes to soon be taken off the US State Department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism, a significant hurdle to receiving foreign aid and investment.