Sudan tribal protesters lift port blockade, week after coup

CAIRO — Tribal protesters on Monday lifted their weekslong blockade on Sudan’s main seaport and oil pipelines, and reopened roads linking the port to the rest of the country, a tribal leader said, following a deal with the military to remove the barricades for one month.

Pro-democracy activists have accused the military of engineering the port blockade and another pro-military protest outside the presidential place in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to deflect from their military takeover of the country.

Kamal Sayed, secretary general of the Baja tribal council, told The Associated Press the tribal leaders have reached a deal with the military to lift the blockade of the Red Sea port and oil pipelines, and reopen roads in the eastern city of Port Sudan for one month, to allow the formation of a new government.

The council represents six nomadic tribes that live in northeastern Sudan where the port is located. For the past two years, they have been protesting in Port Sudan, setting up barricades, and staying on the streets blocking the port. This port is vital for the country and its oil pipelines.

The tribal protesters demand the military fully dissolve the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, whom the army put under house arrest following the coup. The protesters also demanded that the military dismantle the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was taken into house arrest by the army following last year’s coup.

The generals have denied accusations of engineering the port blockade, saying that the protesters’ demands in Port Sudan and in Khartoum are legitimate and should be negotiated politically.

In the weeks before the coup, Hamdok’s government and the U.N. had tried unsuccessfully to negotiate the reopening of the port and the key roads.

Sayed, the tribal official, said the makeshift barricades at the port’s terminals and the main highway liking Port Sudan to Khartoum was removed on Monday morning. If they don’t meet their demands, he said that the barricades will be reinstituted.

The blockade has caused food and fuel shortages across Sudan, with the government warning last month the country was running out of essential goods, including medicines, food and wheat.

Meanwhile in Khartoum, a semblance of normalcy has returned, with several roads and bridges reopened after weeklong tensions and protests against the military’s takeover.

The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum said that movement in and around Khartoum has improved since Saturday, but that military checkpoints remain in place in several areas. In some areas of Khartoum, protesters are still setting up barricades.

Simon Manley, Britain’s ambassador to the U.N. mission in Geneva, said that some 50 countries have requested an emergency session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on the Sudanese military’s takeover. Manley posted, “The actions by the Sudanese army are a betrayal for the revolution and the transition & the hope of the Sudanesepeople.”

Also Monday, security forces rearrested the country’s former foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, hours after his release from a Khartoum prison, local media reported.

Ghandour was first arrested in June last year as part of efforts to dismantle al-Bashir’s Islamist regime. According to Sudan Tribune’s news site, he was freed along with several former officials and al Bashir allies late on Sunday.

No reason was given as to why Ghandour was rearrested. Ghandour was the leader of al-Bashir’s disbanded political party. His release, which was not also explained, had triggered controversy and anger within the pro-democracy movement.

Sudan’s military rulers also dismissed the country’s acting chief prosecutor, Mubarak Mahmoud Othman, late on Sunday, according to the state-run Sudan TV. This report did not provide any details.

Meanwhile, the U.N. envoy for Sudan, Volker Perthes, said mediation efforts were ongoing “in Khartoum by a host of actors” to find a way out of the crisis. U.N. officials have been moving between military leaders and those who support democracy since last week.

“There’s a lot of shuttling,” Perthes told U.N. correspondents in New York in a virtual press conference from the Sudanese capital.

Hamdok remains under house arrest but is allowed to meet with foreign envoys. On Sunday, Hamdok was greeted by Perthes. On Sunday, the U.N. ambassador did not provide any details about Hamdok’s situation — nor do they address any conditions imposed by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan.

Perthes said both Hamdok and Burhan “are interested … in mediation” and have “accepted a wise persons committee” to shuttle between them and develop ideas. Perthes also stated that Hamdok had become “very much” a symbol of civil leadership in Sudan’s revolution. He pointed to many more pictures of Hamdok than he previously saw.

“I think by having him resume his offices, the situation would de-escalate much, and it would be much, much easier to discuss all the outstanding, controversial issues,” Perthes said.

“Everybody wants to find a way out,” he also said, adding that there are hopes that “contours of a package” for negotiations could emerge in the next few days.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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