CAIRO (AP) — Sudan’s main intelligence agency said late Tuesday it has succeeded in quelling an armed mutiny over severance pay from within its ranks.
Sudan’s General Intelligence Service said the rebellious former members of its forces had been convinced “through negotiations” to hand over their weapons.
The statement came hours after the sounds of renewed heavy artillery fire could be heard in central Khartoum, according to several witnesses. The capital’s airport remained shut down overnight.
Throughout the day, rogue intelligence officers fired live rounds into the air to express “their objections” to what they considered unfair severance benefits and to demand better financial compensation, according to the agency. It said the dispute stemmed from the reorganization of the country’s security apparatus amid an ongoing transitional period.
The prime minister of Sudan’s transitional government sought to reassure his jittery country. “The events that occurred today are under control,” tweeted Abdallah Hamdok, a former World Bank economist. “We renew our confidence in the armed forces to contain the situation.”
The burst of unrest highlighted the fragility of Sudan’s path to democracy. A sweeping protest movement ousted longtime autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in April, and led to the creation of a joint military-civilian government that has promised to hold elections in three years. While the government has worked to dismantle some remnants of al-Bashir’s regime, officials with close ties to the disgraced ruler sit on the Sovereign Council.
In order to revive the country’s battered economy, the transitional government is looking to slash military spending by making peace with various rebel groups and reorganizing its security forces.
Scattered gunfire broke out in the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and the western city of Obeid, said the country’s information minister, Faisal Mohamed Salah. In a televised address, he appealed to “rebellious forces” to hand over their weapons.
There were no reports of casualties among security forces or civilians, Salah added.
As videos on social media showed armed clashes and security units out in force across the city, the government scrambled to restore calm.
The powerful deputy chief of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council held a hastily convened press conference to address the unrest. Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo said he blamed the intelligence agency for failing to disarm officers who had been dismissed and to deliver their severance pay on time. He accused notorious former intelligence chief Salah Gosh of trying to stir a revolt in the agency. Gosh could not be immediately reached for comment.
The airport authority in neighboring Egypt said it had suspended all flights to Sudan.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, a protest group that spearheaded the uprising against al-Bashir, urged people to stay indoors until the disturbance was settled. The group said it rejected “any attempt to foment chaos, intimidate citizens and deploy weapons,” and demanded immediate state intervention.
Dagalo is a commander from Darfur whose paramilitary units, known as the Rapid Support Forces, have spent years suppressing insurgencies under al-Bashir’s rule. The brutal campaigns have drawn accusations of war crimes.
Peace negotiations with rebel groups in Sudan’s far-flung, restive provinces have made only halting progress. But in a major symbolic step, Hamdok embarked on a peace mission with U.N. officials to a rebel stronghold last week.
It was unclear how Tuesday’s dispute over pay would affect the reorganization of forces or the peace negotiations.
Hamdok had said last summer that the government hopes for a “peace dividend” that would bring the military budget down from 70-80% of state spending to no more than 20%, with the rest devoted to economic development.
Image: Members of the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary force operated by the Sudanese government, patrol on a street in Khartoum, Sudan, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 (AP Photo/Nariman EL-Mofty)