The death toll in Sudan has risen to more than 100 following a deadly military raid on a nonviolent sit-in in Khartoum Monday morning. According to doctors who have been taking part in the ongoing anti-government uprising, at least 40 bodies were dredged up from the Nile River in the aftermath of the carnage. Meanwhile, the state news agency reported Thursday that the death toll was no more than 46. On Wednesday, the Transitional Military Council said it had launched an investigation into the violence and offered to resume a dialogue on a transition to democracy, just a day after scrapping all agreements with an opposition alliance. But the opposition has rejected the military’s calls to negotiate, citing ongoing violence against civilians. Demonstrators from a range of civil society groups are continuing to demand a civilian transitional government following the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April, after a months-long popular uprising, and the military’s subsequent government takeover. We speak with Marine Alneel, a Sudanese activist recently back from Khartoum. She was at the sit-in just days before it was raided.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The death toll in Sudan has risen to more than a hundred following a deadly military raid on a nonviolent sit-in in Khartoum Monday morning. According to doctors who have been taking part in the ongoing anti-government uprising, at least 40 bodies were dredged up from the Nile River in the aftermath of the carnage. Meanwhile, the state news agency, SUNA, reported Thursday that the death toll was no more than 46.
On Wednesday, the Transitional Military Council said it had launched an investigation into the violence and offered to resume a dialogue on a transition to democracy, just a day after scrapping all agreements with an opposition alliance. This is Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
LT. GEN. ABDEL FATTAH AL-BURHAN: [translated] Sit-in squares and spaces have witnessed important events, spurring human emotions and a lively social life, showing the true depths of Sudanese culture and Sudanese identity. History will record this. We in the Transitional Military Council open our hands to negotiation, with no purpose but the interest of the nation, through which we can complete the establishment of a legitimate authority that expresses the ambitions of the Sudanese revolution in all its varieties.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But the opposition has rejected the military’s calls to negotiate, citing ongoing violence against civilians. This is a protester on the streets of Khartoum Wednesday.
PROTESTER: [translated] What about our children? We started from wanting to change the regime. Now the regime has fallen completely, so the Military Council must either respond to our demands or leave.
AMY GOODMAN: Demonstrators from a range of civil society groups are continuing to demand a civilian transitional government following the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April, after a months-long popular uprising, and the military’s subsequent government takeover.
For more, we’re joined here in New York City by Marine Alneel, a Sudanese activist just back from Khartoum. She was at the sit-in just days before it was raided.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Marine. Can you talk about the numbers of people who have been killed, why people are sitting in and who did the killing?
MARINE ALNEEL: The numbers saying that it’s more than a hundred is actually a gross underestimation, because still the sit-in is not a safe area. It is difficult to go and find the dead bodies of the protesters that may still be there. There are also news of people being still stuck in buildings within the sit-in area. They cannot leave because the streets are full of Rapid Support Forces. This is the forces that have attacked the sit-in and are still terrorizing Khartoum.
Khartoum is, for all intents and purposes, currently under military occupation by the Rapid Support Forces, previously known as the Janjaweed, under Hemedti’s leadership. And he is still calling for attacking the people who are barricading the streets around Khartoum. He is saying that they will pay the price. Many believe that when Hemedti says “paying the price,” he’s only talking about killing. And there is an indiscriminate—
AMY GOODMAN: And explain who he is.
MARINE ALNEEL: Hemedti is the leader of the Rapid Support Forces. He is currently the vice president of the Military Council. And he’s the person who’s leading all of the attacks that are happening, that have happened at the sit-in and are happening around Khartoum.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, can you explain also, Marine, what the Transitional Military Council is, that’s taken power in Sudan after President Bashir was ousted, and what role they’re playing now?
MARINE ALNEEL: Well, the Transitional Military Council, more accurately referred to as the Military Council—it’s not a transitional government. They are only the security council that was supporting Bashir. They have ousted Bashir, but they remain part of the previous regime. They have been negotiating with the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces. But it now seems that these negotiations have not been in good faith. They have never intended to give up power for a civilian government.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Hemedti, the Military Council general who you’ve been talking about. On Wednesday, he talked about the gang members—he claimed the protesters are really gang members threatening and attacking people.
MOHAMED HAMDAN DAGALO: [translated] Throughout the past few days, we have had rising numbers of martyrs, the last of which were two yesterday, people going through their days, my brothers. The matter is now clear. They want Rapid Support Forces troops to be killed. They call themselves protesters. Those are not protesters. They are gangs, which we have warned against early on. The conspiring group will not get through to the Sudanese people. Now we are warning from here, warning all the Sudanese people, that there are false vehicles in neighborhoods, yesterday in Abbasiya and Mansura, in disguise as Rapid Support Forces, threatening and attacking people.
AMY GOODMAN: Military Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti. So, explain what they’re saying about elections and what the civilian uprising is demanding right now.
MARINE ALNEEL: Well, they’ve said that they want to conduct elections within nine months, and that those nine months have started already, from there, the ousting of Bashir. So, technically, within seven months, that would be 2020. That is going back to Bashir’s plan of holding elections in 2020. Definitely, the country is not ready for elections. It is not safe. The capital city is not safe, let alone the places that have been facing conflict for years are not safe. There’s no freedom of expression. There are no parties that are ready to offer the people programs that might be satisfying to the Sudanese people.
The opposition is calling for civil disobedience, starting Sunday. There are signs of it already. However, because of Eid holidays, it is difficult to evaluate the level of the civil disobedience. The Sudanese Professionals Association is an umbrella that holds unions, such as doctors’ unions, lawyers’ unions, but we’re also seeing people from outside from the Sudanese Professionals Association who have said that they will join the civil disobedience. So, for example, there’s a group called Diplomats for Change, and they said they will also be part of the civil disobedience, which means that even foreign embassies in Sudan will not be functioning, starting Sunday.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, can you explain, Marine, for people who aren’t clear, what the relationship is between the RSF and the Military Council? I mean, Hemedti, who you were talking about earlier, many reports suggest that he is in fact the most powerful person in Sudan, and the RSF has been accused of genocide in the Darfur war.
MARINE ALNEEL: The RSF, before it has become legitimized by the previous regime, or by Omar al-Bashir, was called the Janjaweed. They are the same forces that have conducted the genocide in Darfur. Later on, it became more powerful in numbers, and because of the legitimization by the government, they now hold more weapons. They’ve had funding coming in, funneled through the government, but mainly from the EU, to curb the migration of immigrants, because Sudan is sort of a portal to North Africa and, from there, crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. So they have been given that task of stopping the migrants at the borders of Sudan by any means. And their main mean is killing these immigrants.
AMY GOODMAN: And for people to understand what Sudan has been going through and the carnage that has been wreaked by Omar al-Bashir, explain where he is right now, the prison he’s in, and what’s happened in that prison over the years.
MARINE ALNEEL: Well, according to the Military Council, Omar al-Bashir is being held in Kobar prison. It’s an infamous that many political prisoners have been held in. However, there has been no confirmation of these reports. We have not even seen images of Omar al-Bashir since his ousting. We have not seen images of him being arrested when the ousting occurred. So it’s very difficult to confirm his whereabouts.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And before we conclude, Marine, I wanted to ask you about all the different countries that are involved in the conflict in Sudan. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have all been supporting the military in Sudan, helping to suppress the opposition, the protesters. And just last month, Hemedti met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. So, can you explain what interests do Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have in supporting this Military Council, and what the protesters are saying about that?
MARINE ALNEEL: For Egypt, it would be difficult if Sudan has a peaceful transition to a civilian government. That would be somewhat of a trigger for the Egyptian people saying that, “OK, this is possible. Then maybe we can have a different conclusion to our revolution instead of having a military government,” which is what happened in Egypt.
For UAE and Saudi Arabia, they are interested in Sudan’s unfortunate involvement in the Yemen war. Sudan has been providing them with soldiers, many of whom child soldiers, fighting on the ground. Actually, a lot of Saudi and Emirati people have said—have praised their governments for using our people instead of theirs to fight on the ground, so that they would save more of their people’s lives. So, if there is a transition to a civilian government, the civilian government, one of its first demands is to stop this outsourcing that is happening through Sudan of our people, especially human rights violations of using child soldiers, and to stop the conflicts within Sudan.
AMY GOODMAN: And as we wrap up, you’ve been back and forth to Sudan. You just came back. You were there just before they opened fire on the sit-in. You were jailed in January; you were detained. Describe what it’s like to be there and why you continue to go back and forth and hold out hope.
MARINE ALNEEL: Well, in my most recent visit, what I’ve seen was very different from January, and definitely from what is happening now. The sit-in was a place for people to get together. It was a place where a lot of the segregation you see around Khartoum—the ethnic, the socioeconomic, the gender segregation that you see in Khartoum—you did not see that at the sit-in. Young people can get together and speak about their hopes for the future of Sudan. People can organize, unionize. Professionals can unionize. And during the days that I was there, there were a lot of Eid preparations. It was a happy place where you have a lot of the homeless children of Khartoum finding a family for themselves, people who are willing to get them new clothes for Eid. And all of this has been ended tragically by the raid, that has cost us many lives, that we don’t even know the number of.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much, Marine, for being with us. Marine Alneel, Sudanese activist based in New York City.
When we come back, the Trump administration cracks down on U.S. travel to Cuba. Stay with us.