Protesters in the eastern city of Port Sudan lifted a three-day blockade of the city's container terminal on Wednesday, October 7, following discussions with the government regarding a dispute over the signing of a peace agreement with various rebel groups in the country. Members of the local Beja community, including port employees, had blocked all three entrances to the terminal and the main road connecting the city with Khartoum since Sunday, October 4, amid demands for the cancelation of the peace agreement which was signed in the South Sudanese capital Juba the previous day. Demonstrators lifted the road blockade on Tuesday, October 6, following complaints from local traders, but had maintained the protests at the container terminal and the port of Suakin, 60km (37 miles) south of the city.
Government officials reportedly agreed to meet with Beja community leaders on Wednesday to address concerns over the peace agreement and negotiated a deal to reopen the port facilities. However, protesters have suggested that further non-disruptive demonstrations will be held in other areas away from the terminal.
Security forces had avoided intervening in the Port Sudan protests due to the potential for escalating tensions and violence. However, clashes related to the Beja demonstrations have been reported in some other remote areas of the eastern region, with a police officer being killed in an alleged attack by protesters on an oil facility near Haiya, around 160km (100 miles) southwest of Port Sudan, on Monday, October 5.
Further protests and associated disruptions 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 Saturday, 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. However, the country's long-running economic crisis and deteriorating living conditions have significantly contributed to the escalating tensions.
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.
Copyright and Disclaimer