Two Sudanese rebel leaders were arrested on Saturday, opposition sources said, shortly after meeting visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is trying to mediate in a crisis threatening a transition to democracy.
Abiy on Friday urged Sudan’s military rulers and civilian opposition to exercise “bravery” to agree steps toward democracy after the worst bloodshed since the April overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir.
The Ethiopian premier visited days after Sudanese forces stormed a protest camp outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum where demonstrators are demanding civilian rule. Dozens of people have been killed since Monday.
While no breakthrough was announced at the end of Abiy’s one-day visit, an aide to the Ethiopian prime minister said talks went well and Abiy would return to Sudan soon.
The ruling Transitional Military Council thanked Ethiopia for its mediation efforts, state news agency SUNA said.
The TMC expressed “openness and keenness to negotiate to reach satisfactory understandings that will lead to a national consensus, leading to the establishment of a democratic transition,” SUNA said.
Two opposition figures at Friday’s meeting with Abiy said Ismail Jallab, secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), and the armed group’s spokesman Mubarak Ardol were detained a few hours later.
Abiy offered to mediate after the opposition Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) alliance’s talks with the TMC over who will lead a transition period before elections ground to a halt, then collapsed after the raid on the protest camp.
Opposition medics say 113 people died when the camp was stormed and the subsequent security crackdown. Government put the week’s death toll at 61, including three security service members.
Last Wednesday, SPLM-N deputy head Yasir Arman was detained by security services at his house in Khartoum, the organisation said. He returned from exile after Bashir was toppled 30 years after he took power in a bloodless coup.
Arman was sentenced to death in absentia for his part in a rebellion against Bashir’s government in the Sudanese state Blue Nile in 2011.
The arrest of Jallab and Ardol came hours after Mohammad Esmat, another DFCF member, was taken into custody after meeting Abiy.
There was no immediate comment from the TMC on the reported arrests.
“This amounts to a practical response from the military council that effectively rejects the Ethiopian prime minister’s mediation effort,” Khalid Omar Yousef, a DFCF leader, told Reuters after Esmat’s arrest.
Yousef said Abiy proposed a transitional council of eight civilians and seven military officers with a rotating presidency.
The opposition demanded military rulers take responsibility for the bloodshed, allow an international investigation into the violence and free political prisoners, Yousef added. The Sudanese opposition would not agree to any deal before all of its conditions are met, he said.
The SPLM-N includes fighters who sided with South Sudanese rebels in decades of civil war fuelled by ethnicity, oil and ideology that ended in a 2005 peace deal.
They were left in Sudan when that agreement paved the way to the secession of South Sudan in 2011.