The death toll from a crackdown on demonstrators by the ruling military junta in Sudan passed one hundred on Thursday as forty corpses were found floating in the Nile River.
Reports from the scene claimed the victims were shot, beaten to death, or hacked with machetes.
The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD), an opposition political group, described the dead as “noble martyrs” and said their bodies were carted off by the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group loyal to the government. The death toll is based on their count.
Only one of the forty bodies retrieved from the river has been positively identified. The victim, Mohamed Abdelrahman, was reported missing on Monday. The CCSD believes the death toll from the crackdown will rise as the bodies of more missing persons are discovered.
The leader of the junta, Transitional Military Council (TMC) chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, on Wednesday apologized for the deadly violence employed against protesters and said negotiations over establishing a civilian government should resume. However, RSF commander Mohammed “Hemedti” Hamadan defended the violence and said it was necessary to keep subversive elements from overthrowing the government.
“We will not allow chaos and we will not go back on our convictions. There is no way back. We must impose the respect of the country by law,” Hamadan said.
Demonstrators have been holding a sit-in outside military headquarters in Khartoum since early April when longtime President Omar al-Bashir was deposed in a coup. The protesters want the military to step aside in favor of an elected civilian government.
Residents of Khartoum reportedly fear beatings or death at the hands of the Sudanese military, paramilitary groups like the RSF, and the even uglier Janjaweed. Euphoria over Bashir’s ouster has given way to suspicions the junta will not relinquish power. Reformers are apprehensive about military officers “resigning” and reinventing themselves as “civilian candidates” in dubious elections.
Survivors of the assault on demonstrators in Khartoum say the regular army withdrew from positions around the city center and made way for the RSF to attack. Some of the RSF thugs were reportedly clad in police uniforms, leading to rumors the police were joining the fray to beat and kill demonstrators.
Attacks on medical facilities where injured protesters are receiving treatment began after the massacre on Monday and continued throughout the week.
“They beat the clinic people, saying, ‘why are you helping him?’ And one of the clinic people had his arm broken. They were whipped for trying to help me. This is the ugliest human treatment possible. We did not think there would come a day when this would happen to us here,” said one eyewitness to a clinic attack.
“They kicked us out from two hospitals that were giving aid to the injured and the victims of the gunshots. It’s an order from the military council to shut down those hospitals because we were giving aid for the citizens,” a pharmacist in Khartoum told the BBC.
Sudanese officials on Thursday denied the report of over a hundred deaths, insisting “no more than 46” have been killed during the “recent events” in Khartoum. The TMC issued a statement blaming a “campaign organized on social media” for “spreading lies and fabricating accusations” against the junta.
The United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations have withdrawn non-critical civilian staff from their embassies in Sudan. The U.S. embassy on Wednesday issued a shelter-in-place security alert advising “extreme caution” and instructing American citizens to “make plans to leave Sudan.” The British embassy issued a similar advisory.
The African Union suspended Sudan’s membership on Thursday, citing the brutal crackdown on protesters and the junta’s refusal to cede power to a civilian government. The African Union statement said membership for Sudan would be restored after “the effective establishment of a civilian-led transitional authority.”