Protesters in the eastern coastal city of Port Sudan lifted their blockade of the main road to Khartoum on Tuesday, October 6, but the city's container port, and other export terminals in the country, remain closed amid a dispute over the signing of a peace agreement with various rebel groups in the country. The road connecting the port city to the capital had been blocked by demonstrators from the local Beja community since Sunday, October 4, who demanded the cancellation of the peace agreement which was signed in the South Sudanese capital Juba the previous day. Protest leaders announced on Wednesday that the road had been reopened at the request of local businesses in order to resume travel and freight traffic between the two cities.
Despite the removal of the roadblocks in Hosheiri, Sinkat, Suakin, and Haya, the blockade of Port Sudan's container terminal, the country's main import hub, is reported to remain in place. Local residents have blocked all three entrances to the terminal since Sunday, with similar protests being reported at the port of Suakin, 60km (37 miles) south of the city. Tensions have been elevated around the sites, with unions and community groups threatening further protests and industrial action over the peace agreement, but security forces have so far avoided intervening in the dispute.
Further protests and associated disruptions to travel and port operations are likely in Port Sudan and surrounding areas in the medium term. There is a realistic possibility of violence and an escalation in unrest if security forces intervene in the protests, with restrictions and emergency measures, including a curfew, likely to be imposed.
Sudan's transitional government has continued long-running peace talks since the overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 to resolve the various disputes which have long fed instability and conflict in multiple areas of the country. Following an initial peace plan in August, a comprehensive agreement was signed in Juba on October 3 between the government and representatives of many of the country's rebel movements under the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) coalition. However, several groups, including the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Movement - Abdul Wahid al-Nur (SLM-AW) faction, refused to back the deal, whilst activists in the east claimed that the deal did not address the concerns of local communities in the region. Although eastern-based groups were involved in the peace process, these were predominantly drawn from the Beni Amer tribe rather than the local Beja community.
Tribal and political tensions have been increasing in Port Sudan and other areas in the east of the country since the coup which toppled Bashir, leading to several outbreaks of violent unrest in the city. Much of the violence has been linked to clashes between the eastern region's Beni Amer, Beja, and Nuba communities over water resources, which have seen dozens of people killed in Port Sudan and other cities.
Those in Port Sudan and the wider eastern region are advised to monitor developments in their particular area of operations, avoid all demonstrations and political gatherings as a precaution, and plan alternative routes if traveling in case of roadblocks. Travelers should heed any directives issued by local authorities, including curfews, and liaise with in-country sources to ascertain the current situation at their destination.
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