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Members of a forensic team are seen at a cemetery where a mass grave was discovered, south of Khartoum, Sudan, on June 13, 2020.

-/AFP/Getty Images

Sudanese authorities have found a mass grave believed to contain the bodies of dozens of student conscripts who were shot or beaten to death in 1998 after trying to flee a military camp, the country’s top prosecutor said Monday.

Taj al-Ser Ali al-Hebr told reporters that his office has launched an investigation and that some suspects from the government of toppled President Omar al-Bashir have fled the country. He did not provide further details.

The conscripts had tried to escape the Ailafoon military camp, some 15 miles (25 kilometres) southeast of the capital, Khartoum, after their commanders refused to allow them to go home to celebrate a major Muslim holiday.

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The Sudanese opposition at that time, known as the National Democratic Alliance, said soldiers shot and beat to death 74 student conscripts, and at least 55 others drowned when their boat capsized on the Blue Nile while they were trying to escape. In total, at least 261 recruits tried to escape the camp, it said.

Al-Bashir’s government said 31 people died.

The National Democratic Alliance said the bodies of 12 students were handed over to their families and 117 others were buried in a mass grave on April 6, 1998. It said autopsies showed that the students had been “beaten with sticks” and shot.

Al-Bashir’s government was believed to have forcibly conscripted men from streets and markets for training to fight an insurgency in South Sudan, which gained independence more than a decade later, in 2011.

In his news conference, al-Hebr said 40 people would be tried over the Islamist-backed coup that brought al-Bashir to power in 1989. He did not name them or detail the charges.

The military removed al-Bashir from power in April 2019 amid mass protests against his long rule, which had been marked by civil wars, sanctions and isolation. Leading an alliance of the military and Islamist hard-liners, al-Bashir kept an iron grip on power and brutally suppressed any opposition while monopolizing the economy through allied businessmen.

The International Criminal Court has charged al-Bashir with genocide and crimes against humanity linked to the 2003-2004 conflict in Darfur. He is currently imprisoned in Khartoum, and in December a Sudanese court convicted him of money laundering and corruption, sentencing him to two years in a minimum-security lock-up.

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The military has thus far refused to hand him over to the ICC for prosecution on the more serious charges.

An alleged Sudanese militia leader charged with more than 50 crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur meanwhile appeared Monday before a judge at the International Criminal Court for the first time since his transfer to the court last week.

Ali Mohammed Ali Abdul Rahman Ali, known as Ali Kushayb, said the charges were “untrue.”

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