People attend a protest rally in Khartoum

Sudan heading toward ‘collapse’ unless civilian government returns, U.N. envoy says

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. envoy for Sudan warned Monday the east African nation is heading for “an economic and security collapse” unless it addresses the political paralysis following October’s military coup and moves toward resuming a civilian-led transition.

Volker Perthes told the U.N. Security Council that the military’s “violent repression” of protests against the coup is continuing and the absence of a political agreement on returning to a transitional path has already led to a deteriorating economic, humanitarian and security situation in the country.

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The coup upended Sudan’s democratic transition after a popular uprising forced the military to remove autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.

Near-daily street protests demanding a return to civilian rule have been met by a crackdown on protesters that has killed 80 people, mostly young men, and injured over 2,600 others, according to a Sudanese medical group. Western governments and world financial institutions suspended their assistance to Sudan in order to pressure the generals to return to civilian-led government.

Perthes said the United Nations, the African Union and the eight-nation east African regional group called the Intergovernmental Authority in Development have agreed to join efforts to facilitate Sudanese-led political talks.

The aim, he said, is a “return to constitutional order and (a) transitional path, with an empowered civilian-led government to steer the country through the transitional period and address the critical priorities.”

To give these talks a chance of succeeding, he said, “favorable conditions must be created” including an end to violence, ensuring the right to demonstrate peacefully, the release of political detainees, and “a firm commitment” to phase out the military’s current state of emergency in the country.

He said women demonstrators have been subjected to violence and intimidation by members of the security forces and 16 women have reportedly been raped during protests in the capital of Khartoum as of March 22, though the figure could be higher due to under-reporting.

Perthes said that over the last two weeks, the three organizations have been working on a common approach and consulting key Sudanese parties. He said many of them “have emphasized the urgency of the situation and the need for a speedy yet sound resolution” a view he shares.

“We expect to start an intensive phase of talks in the next couple of weeks, fully recognizing that this will be during the (Muslim) holy month of Ramadan,” Perthes said. “We anticipate that the stakeholders will participate in the month’s spirit of peace and forgiveness.”

The U.N. envoy said that “the stakes are high” and the aspirations of the Sudanese people “for a prosperous, civilian-led, democratic future are at risk.”

“Unless the current trajectory is corrected, the country will head towards an economic and security collapse, and significant humanitarian suffering,” he said.

READ MORE: How months of tensions led to Sudan’s coup

There have been disturbing reports of increased tensions among Sudan’s different security forces, Perthes added. This has sparked concerns in some quarters “that if a political solution is not found, Sudan could descend into conflict and divisions as seen in Libya, Yemen or elsewhere, in a region already beset by instability,” he said.

Perthes also warned that the combination of conflict, economic crisis and poor harvests “will likely double the number of people facing acute hunger in Sudan to 18 million people by September 2022.”

In the absence of a political solution, he said, crime and lawlessness are rising and intercommunal conflicts in the vast western Darfur region have intensified, with farmers forced off their land by violent attacks, villages burned, and homes looted.