Ethiopia‘s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is in Sudan’s capital to spearhead mediation talks between the Sudanese military and opposition leaders, days after the killing of dozens of unarmed protesters by a notorious paramilitary force.
Soon after arriving in Khartoum on Friday, Abiy met members of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) – which has ruled Sudan since long-time leader Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in a coup in April – and is expected to hold talks with the opposition Freedom and Change alliance later in the day.
TMC spokesman Lieutenant-General Shams-Eddin Kabashi received the Ethiopian PM at Khartoum International Airport for the one-day visit, before he met military leader Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
The Ethiopian leader is seen as a neutral party to facilitate the peace talks in Sudan.
Abiy, 42, who took office in Ethiopia last year and introduced political and economic reforms, has won wide praise for his diplomacy skills, including brokering peace with his country’s neighbour and long-time foe Eritrea.
His trip comes after the African Union (AU) suspended Sudan’s membership on Thursday and at least 61 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in Monday’s attack, according to the opposition-linked Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors.
‘State of terror’
Since the deadly assault, fearful Khartoum residents have remained largely indoors, leaving the streets virtually deserted at a time when Muslims are normally out celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
Soldiers from the feared Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – who have their origins in the notorious Janjaweed militia unleashed in the conflict in the western region of Darfur in 2003 and 2004 – have remained stationed in a number of the capital’s main squares.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Awol Allo – a lecturer specialising in East African politics at Keele University – said Ethiopia stands the best chance as a third party in mediating an agreement to halt the violence.
“If there are any external parties in the region who can bring the two sides together it would be Ethiopian prime minister and government,” Allo told Al Jazeera.
“That is partly because of Ethiopia’s own political weight in the AU … [and] also because Ethiopia has largely remained neutral and impartial so far in the confrontation between the military council and the forces for freedom and change.”
While Allo said there are limitations on Abiy’s mediation efforts, Ethiopia may be positioned to help the military reach an agreement that addresses the opposition’s demands.
“Ultimately … the best outline that is consistent with the demands of the revolution and international community is setting up a transitional government that gives the majority of the authority – the supreme authority – to a civilian body, not to the military,” said Allo.
The AU’s Peace and Security Department said Sudan’s participation in all AU activities would be suspended with immediate effect “until the effective establishment of a civilian-led transitional authority”, which it described as the only way to “exit from the current crisis”.
Sudan’s pro-democracy leaders have vowed to continue their campaign of civil disobedience until the TMC is removed and killers of protesters are brought to justice. However, the streets were quiet on Friday.
Monday’s bloodshed marked a pivotal moment in the week-long struggle between the TMC and the opposition groups over who should lead Sudan’s transition to democracy.
Burhan has said the TMC was ready to resume negotiations with the opposition coalition. But the opposition rejected the offer, saying the military could not be trusted.