On June 3, the eve of the 30th anniversary of China’s bloody dispersal of demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Sudan’s military authorities launched their own massacre of unarmed pro-democracy protesters. State-linked paramilitaries attacked a peaceful sit-in in the capital, Khartoum, claiming, without proof, that it had been infiltrated by drug dealers and criminals. More than 100 people were killed, according to doctors’ groups in Khartoum. Scores of bodies were dumped into the Nile River, women were reportedly raped and hospital staff attacked as they tended to the injured. That the atrocities echoed those conducted in Darfur for more than a decade was hardly surprising; the perpetrators were the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, a successor militia to the infamous Janjaweed that was accused of genocide in Darfur. In the days that followed, the authorities rounded up protesters, deported political leaders and cut off internet services.
The massacre coincided with a deadlock in negotiations between the leaders of the popular movement whose protests hastened the end of Omar al-Bashir’s three decades in power and the military that finally ousted him in April. Civilian representatives, organized under a coalition known as the Forces for Freedom and Change, failed to persuade the Transitional Military Council that has been in charge since Bashir’s fall to give them majority representation in an interim presidential council that would organize elections. While talks dragged on, the RSF commander and vice president of the military council, Mohammed Hamdan Daqlou, known as Hemeti, unleashed his forces on the protesters, who had vowed to camp out until the military gave up power.
Now, hopes of a successful democratic transition seem dashed. A pall of fear hangs over Sudan, and any trust the civilian negotiators might have had in the military has evaporated. The Transitional Military Council, which admitted ordering the onslaught, has blood on its hands. The violence has also exposed divisions within the civilian protest movement. Some of those who risked their lives on the street accused the Forces for Freedom and Change of disowning them during the negotiations. A general strike called in the wake of the violence failed to hold beyond two days.