KHARTOUM: President Omar Al-Bashir vowed on Monday to bring peace in the state of South Kordofan where Sudanese forces are fighting rebels, as protesters planned to hold anti-government rallies in the country’s conflict zones.
Deadly protests triggered by a government decision to raise the price of bread have rocked the east African country for weeks.
The demonstrations have spiraled into nationwide rallies against the government of Al-Bashir, who swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.
Officials say 30 people have died in the violence since the protests first erupted on Dec. 19 in the farming town of Atbara, before spreading to Khartoum and other regions. Rights groups say more than 40 people have been killed.
On Monday, Al-Bashir vowed to work to bring peace in South Kordofan, a region ravaged by a deadly conflict between government forces and rebels since 2011.
“Our top priority is to bring peace to this area,” Al-Bashir, dressed in military uniform, told a crowd of cheering supporters at a televised rally in Kadguli, the capital of South Kordofan.
“We are ready to go to any length to bring peace to this area. We will undertake all efforts that will bring peace to this area.”
In 2011, fighting erupted in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, both bordering South Sudan, eight years after a brutal conflict broke out in the country’s western region of Darfur.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the three conflicts and millions displaced over the years after ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Khartoum, accusing it of economic and political marginalization.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related to the war in Darfur. He denies the charges.
The Sudanese Professionals Association leading the protest campaign has called for rallies in the three conflict zones of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan on Monday.
Rallies have also been called in other states and in camps for internally displaced people “to show our people’s rejection of the dictator,” the association said in a statement on Sunday.
For years, anger has been mounting across Sudan over growing economic hardships and deteriorating living conditions.
Meanwhile, Moscow on Monday said it had sent “instructors” to Sudan, where demonstrators have been protesting against Al-Bashir for weeks, following reports of sightings of Russian-speaking soldiers in Khartoum.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not specify who the “instructors” were, but said they were in Sudan “absolutely legitimately.”
“There are really instructors there, they have been working for some time, a considerable time,” Peskov told journalists. “This is in the framework of Russia-Sudan bilateral relations, absolutely legitimately.”
“Of course our instructors are in Sudan,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said, Interfax reported.
“There are both private and state instructors” who have been asked to “help with preparing personnel,” Bogdanov said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova last week said “representatives of private security firms” were working in Sudan but had “nothing to do with Russia’s government structures.”
She said they were training personnel for Sudan’s “institutions of force,” which could refer to law enforcement or military.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met Al-Bashir last July in Moscow where the Sudanese leader said Russia was playing an important role in “preparing Sudanese military personnel” in the framework of bilateral cooperation.
British newspaper The Times said that Russian mercenaries in Sudan were part of the so-called Wagner private security group, a mercurial company sending soldiers to a number of conflicts overseas.
Russian reports alleged in late 2018 that dozens of Wagner mercenaries were in the country.
The secretive group has also been active in the Central African Republic, according to reports. Last year three Russian journalists investigating its activities in the country were murdered.
Russian officials have labeled the crime a violent robbery.