April 18, 2019 / 4:56 PM / a month ago

U.S. urges Sudan's military to step aside, make way for civilian-led transition

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department on Thursday called on Sudan’s military to step aside and make way for a peaceful civilian-led transition, as protesters in Khartoum kept up demands for the country’s transitional military council to hand over power to civilians.

“The will of the Sudanese people is clear: it is time to move toward a transitional government that is inclusive and respectful of human rights and the rule of law,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

The statement appeared to clarify the U.S. position toward the military council’s hold on the country, after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was ousted on April 11 after weeks of mass protests.

A senior State Department official said U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Makila James would hold talks in Khartoum over the weekend, to assess the situation on the ground.

The official, speaking to reporters on background, described the situation in Sudan as “extremely fluid” and said it was important to avoid a “quagmire of endless deliberations” over who should lead an interim civilian authority.

Demonstrators have said they will not cease until the transitional military council transfers power to civilian-led authorities and elections are held.

Bashir, who faces arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court over accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region, was moved this week to a high-security prison in Khartoum from the presidential residence.

Ortagus said Sudan remained labeled by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism and Washington’s policies toward it would be based on “our assessment of events on the ground and the actions of transitional authorities.”

The State Department official said none of the members of the military council were under U.S. sanctions.

Sudan was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 under former U.S. President Bill Clinton, cutting it off from financial markets and strangling its economy.

Washington lifted a 20-year trade embargo against Sudan in 2017 and was in the process of discussions on removing it from the sponsor of terrorism list when the military stepped in on April 11 to depose Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years.

The Trump administration suspended the next round of the talks, scheduled for the end of April, after the military took control.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Tom Brown

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