Sudan crisis: Government propaganda trip exposes schisms

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Since Sudan’s president of 30 years was toppled in April, the ruling military council that then took power has been in conflict with protesters demanding civilian rule.

Scores of protesters have been killed in a crackdown, sparking a nationwide civil disobedience campaign. The BBC’s Africa editor, Fergal Keane, reports from a government propaganda trip which went awry, exposing the country’s political schisms.

It must have seemed like a good idea to somebody, although I cannot imagine why. The plan was to show us how terribly the protesters had behaved. If the world could see what they were really like they would understand that the regime had no choice but to send in the militia.

Except from the moment we arrived at the first medical facility things started to go wrong.

Groups of Rapid Support Force militia (RSF) were lounging in the shade on both sides of the road. They had a small checkpoint outside the Institute for the Blind and were clearly surprised to meet us. “No cameras, no cameras,” shouted one militiaman.

Several were wielding the long sticks they have used to batter opposition supporters in the last few days. They are known in Khartoum now as “Janjawid Two” – a reference to the fact that many served in that ruthless force that was used to terrorise civilians in Darfur.

Surrounded by militia we moved inside the building. Any attempt to point a camera in their direction was met with angry warnings. We were guided by health ministry minders who showed us a series of ransacked offices. Files were strewn on the floor. There were broken pieces of electronic equipment. A militiaman followed us inside. The minders were looking nervous. “You need authorization to film in here,” one of the stick bearers announced. There were phone calls.

Suddenly that rarest of things in Khartoum – a smiling militia commander – strode through the gates. He phoned his boss. His boss probably phoned another boss. Permission was granted. We were allowed to film. “But nobody in a uniform,” said the commander.

The health ministry minder told us to follow him so that we could see the ransacked laboratory: smashed sample tubes and more scattered files. The spokesman for the ministry, Hassan Abudulla, said this had all been the work of the protesters. They had broken in and destroyed equipment. He seemed to me to be speaking from a pre-prepared script. So I asked a question.

Q: Do you honestly believe that the violence and destruction was caused by protesters and not by men with guns?

A: I can’t be certain. The attack happened. I can’t be certain who has done it. I don’t know exactly who has done it… Everything here has been destroyed.

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