By Khaled Abelaziz and El Tayeb Siddig
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Armed ex-security agents linked to Sudan’s toppled ruler Omar al-Bashir fought government soldiers in the capital Khartoum on Tuesday, residents said, in the biggest confrontation so far between the old guard and supporters of the new administration.
The former employees of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) also shut two small oilfields in Darfur in protest about their severance packages, a government source told Reuters. They had an output of around 5,000 barrels a day.
Restructuring the once feared security apparatus blamed for suppressing dissent under Bashir was among the key demands of the uprising that forced his removal in April after 30 years in power.
However, once dismissed by the new transitional government, many of the security agents returned to their barracks without being disarmed after leaving the ministries and streets they once controlled.
Residents said the clashes broke out between the former security staff and forces loyal to the transitional government in a northern district of Khartoum where gunfire could be heard for hours.
In a second location next to the airport ex-NISS staff seized a security building, which was then surrounded by government forces and where gunfire could also be heard, witnesses said.
Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Sudan’s most powerful paramilitary group, which supports the new government, said while he would not consider Tuesday’s incident a coup attempt, any such action would not be tolerated.
“We will not accept any coup, we will not accept any illegal change. The only change will come from the Sudanese people,” he said.
In the evening the gunfire abated but the situation in the capital remained tense, residents said.
Information Minister Faisal Mohamed Saleh said the gunmen were former employees angry at the terms they had been offered upon their dismissal.
The authorities “continue their efforts to persuade the rebellious units to surrender and hand over their arms”, Saleh said, adding that there were no casualties.
A Reuters witness saw the army and members of the RSF deploy in Khartoum’s main streets and shut down roads.
Authorities closed Sudan’s airspace for five hours as a precautionary measure after the start of the shooting, a Civil Aviation Ministry spokesman said.
Dagalo, also deputy head of the sovereign council, the top transitional authority, made up of the military and civilians, said that former Sudan intelligence chief Salah Gosh and a member of Bashir’s old ruling party was behind the NISS unrest.
“This is a coordinated plan by Salah Gosh and another member of the National Congress party including some generals from intelligence service,” he told a news conference during a visit to South Sudan’s capital Juba on Tuesday.
“The person behind this shooting today is Salah Gosh. He has many generals active within the security sector with an aim to create confusion and fighting.”
Gosh could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the country’s main protest group, called on state agencies to intervene immediately to stop “these irresponsible operations that are causing terror amongst citizens”.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Eltayeb Siddig and Nayera Abdallah with additional reporting by Denis Dumo in Juba; Writing by Amina Ismail and Ulf Laessing; Editing by William Maclean and Alison Williams)