Khartoum, Sudan (CNN)In front of the military headquarters in Khartoum, workers are rebuilding the pavement. Men in khaki uniforms lounge under trees. Buildings here have been given a fresh lick of white paint, but the protest art and graffiti underneath is still faintly visible.
Authorities in the Sudanese capital are trying to erase any sign of the horrors of June 3, when troops, spearheaded by a paramilitary unit called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), opened fire on a pro-democracy sit-in, killing at least 118 people, according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.
Mu’men Ahmed, a 27-year-old leather bag and bracelet designer, was there that morning and filmed on his phone bullets raining down on the protesters.
“Snipers were targeting the people filming,” he said. Ahmed explained he was shot in the hand and leg — a bandage peaked out from the bottom of his shorts.
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“I continued to film and then some shrapnel hit my head,” he said.
The massacre that day horrified human rights activists and governments worldwide.
But perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised them. The RSF is comprised largely of militias from the Janjaweed group, which became notorious for village-burning and rape during the Darfur conflict in west Sudan more than a decade ago.
After President Omar al-Bashir, who has been accused of war crimes for his role in Darfur, was removed in a military coup in April, a Transitional Military Council (TMC) took power, co-led by the RSF.
Their crackdown struck a fatal blow to hopes of a peaceful transition of power.
The similarity, albeit on a smaller scale, between what the Janjaweed did in Darfur and the RSF’s actions on June 3 — they allegedly burned protesters’ tents, killed sit-in participants and, according to multiple accounts, raped female protesters — did not escape Ahmed.
Muhammad Hamdan Daqlu — more commonly known in Sudan as “Hemedti” — is the Commander General of the RSF and was one of the leaders of the Janjaweed.
He is now the deputy head of the ruling TMC and has the biggest public profile of anyone in the military council.
Hemedti regularly addresses pro-RSF crowds, pushing the message that the men in uniform are trying to restore security and stability to the East African nation.
Earlier this week, hundreds of mostly male, tribal leaders packed a large, stuffy hall in Khartoum for a Hemedti rally. Many had traveled hundreds of kilometers from conservative areas of northern Sudan, which tend to side with whichever party is in power.
Outside, a group of musicians banged on drums and blew horns, while men mostly in white robes and turbans danced, waving sticks or mobile phones. One man held a dagger in the air.