By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's opposition plans to nominate eight members of a transitional council and name a prominent economist to head a government, a leader in the alliance of protesters and opposition groups said on Monday.
The plan, which appears to build on a proposal by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed presented during a mediation visit to Khartoum last week, could help break a deadlock between the country's military rulers and the civilian opposition in efforts to agree on a transition to democracy.
Abiy visited Khartoum on a mediation mission in which he proposed a 15-member transitional council consisting of eight civilians and seven army officers to lead the country to democracy.
Tensions have soared in Sudan since security forces violently broke up a protest camp in central Khartoum a week ago, killing dozens of protesters. The opposition have responded by declaring civil disobedience that has curtailed life in the capital.
An opposition leader said that the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) alliance planned to announce nominating Abdullah Hamdouk, a former executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, as new prime minister.
"This is in addition to announcing eight members of the sovereign council, including three women," the source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
The source gave no further details.
Opposition sources have said that an aide of Abiy had been shuttling between the two sides trying to broker a deal after his one-day visit to Khartoum.
Abiy said on Monday on Twitter he had spoken to the head of the military council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, about "mediation progress".
The military council, in what could be a gesture to the protesters, announced on Monday that several government troops have been arrested pending legal action, after a preliminary investigation into the dispersal of the protesters last week found evidence of wrongdoing.
REBEL LEADERS DEPORTED
In Washington, the State Department said that top U.S. diplomat for Africa Tibor Nagy was due to travel to Sudan this week to push for the resumption of talks on a democratic transition.
Stability in Sudan is crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya. Various powers, including Russia and the Gulf Arab states, are trying to influence its path.
Earlier on Monday, the People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), one of the country's main rebel groups, said the military rulers had released three of its leaders after several days in detention and expelled them to South Sudan.
Yasir Arman, the most prominent of the three men and the deputy head of the SPLM-N, was detained last Wednesday after returning from exile following the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir in April.
The two others, SPLM-N secretary-general Ismail Jallab and spokesman Mubarak Ardol, were arrested after meeting the visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister as he tried to mediate between the military council and civilian opposition.
A statement from SPLM-N chairman Malik Agar said the three officials had been "denied access to their accommodation" and deported in a military aircraft to Juba, South Sudan's capital.
"This happened despite their rejection of the forceful deportation," the statement said, adding that the move showed the military council's intention "not to hand power to the civilians and not to reach peace".
The council could not be reached for comment.
Also on Monday, Deputy U.N. spokeswoman Eri Kaneko told reporters in New York that the military council had decreed to the African Union-U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur to hand over its premises to Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as part of the mission's withdrawal in 2020.
"That is not in keeping with our existing agreement with the Sudanese government and our insistence that the facilities be used solely for civilian purposes," she said.
Witnesses said the RSF, which grew out of Arab militias that fought in Darfur, led the assault on the protest sit-in in Khartoum last week.
Opposition doctors say at least 118 people have been killed since the raid on the sit-in a week ago. The government has confirmed 61 deaths, including three members of the security services.
The DFCF alliance has tried to sustain the protest movement through a civil disobedience campaign that largely shut down Khartoum on Sunday.
On Monday, there was a little more movement on the streets and some shops had begun to reopen, including in Khartoum's central market, but many stores and businesses remained closed.
"We are against the killing of civilians and we support the (protest movement) but today I returned to work because I earn my income day by day and I am the only source of income for my family and my children," said Saleh Yaqoub, a 53-year-old shopkeeper.
(Additional reporting by Denis Dumo, Michelle Nichols, Omar Fahmy, and Maher Chmaytelli; Writing by Sami Aboudi and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich and James Dalgleish)