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Sudan Tribune

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Opposition leader Al-Mahdi says government stance on peace not realistic

Al-Zaman — August 22, 2003

Text of interview of Sudanese Ummah Party opposition leader Al- Sadiq al-Mahdi, by Mustafa Amarah, entitled “Khartoum’s policies unjust and violations of Christians’ rights that have isolated the regime from neighbouring countries, by London-based newspaper Al- Zaman on 22 August, date and location of interview not given; subheadings inserted editorially

With the start of a new round of negotiations between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM], The Ummah Party leader, Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, confirmed to “Al- Zaman” that the current round of negotiations will not decide the matter.

Government stance not realistic

He explained that the knot of disagreement would begin to loosen because the position of rejection adopted by the government is not realistic. He pointed out that there is a secession between the south and the north because the SPLM is in control of most of the south.

He said that the secession is in existence now and that the agreement would regulate the current situation until a referendum is carried out. After the referendum, either the secession or unity will be made into law.

“We are now facing the discussion of a compromise. It will ultimately be agreed to and this compromise will be somewhere between secession and federation.” He added: “We are hoping that the situation that we would call being somewhere in the middle will be prepared to give priority toward unity and that it will have a preponderance toward these factors. This is what I am expecting to occur.”

Severe wars expected should the talks fail

He indicated that the civil war and the confrontations in Sudan will be even more violent than they have been in the past because the confrontations are currently taking place in all of the country. If an agreement is able to contain them, then this would be something good. This is what the Sudanese people want. If an agreement failed to materialize, then the situation would be dangerous because the returning war would be even more severe than the war in the past.

As to the reasons why the negotiations between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement failed and whether the reasons for that failure are tied to the role of some of the neighbouring countries, he explained that the policies of the regime were policies of interference in the affairs of others.

Regime’s policy based on persecution of human rights

They were based on the persecution of human rights and not just in how they pertained to those who were different religiously. He said: “There are feelings of widespread animosity not toward Sudan, but toward the Sudanese regime because of its policies that were applied in Sudan. But now [it is implementing] something different from these policies. This has opened the way toward understanding and I believe that intermediary elements are active now, elements more sympathetic to the SPLM because they consider it to be oppressed and they consider the ruling regime to be an oppressor.

Sub-Saharan African, Western states, consider SPLM oppressed

The sub-Saharan African states and the Western states mostly consider the SPLM to be oppressed and the ruling regime to be an oppressor. This feeling will continue to exist. This is a real part that cannot be denied and I believe that there will be a peace agreement even though it may have a bias against the regime and one in favour of the SPLM. That is because there is no other alternative to a peace agreement.”

Accusations have been traded about violating the cease-fire between the government and the SPLM. The latest of these is the government’s accusation that the SPLM has attacked villages in the Darfur region and has introduced a new front against the regime in addition to the fronts in the south.

On these matters, he said: “There is always a civil war in this war and there are contrasting positions. I believe that the government is responsible for the escalation of the war in Sudan. It has created the circumstances for that and they are what have led to the new activity in Darfur.

We are hopeful that the current negotiating will lead to a new situation. In general, the Sudanese people want to end the war and the dictatorship and I believe that this has now become possible.”

With respect to the Khartoum Declaration and its importance, in terms of it being an enhancement of the Cairo Declaration, it does have relevance for the Sudanese opposition in the interior. Concerning the document submitted by the Ummah Party, it is an attempt to submit an opinion because the SPLM accepted the latest IGAD draft agreement (the mediators’ draft) while the government rejected it.

Ummah Party provided acceptable third option

Therefore, the Ummah Party submitted a paper. In it there can be considered a third way of amending the document so that it can be considered a compromise that is acceptable to the SPLM and one that the government would approve.

He said: “This is what we hope will happen. The matter is still under discussion and the importance of the Khartoum Declaration comes in that it establishes principles as the basis for a compromise between the two parties of the dispute.”

As for the controversy that was stirred up over the status of the national capital in the Cairo Declaration, whose meeting witnessed both Garang and Al-Mirghani [[opposition leaders] and accusations directed at the Ummah Party and the National Democratic Alliance of embracing Garang’s view of a secular capital, he confirmed that these accusations are not accurate.

There should be equality for all religions

That is because, in the first place, Garang’s call was for a secular capital while the government’s call is for a capital in which there is an authority based on Islamic provisions. “We were of the opinion that the capital would not be secular if such an authority were present inside it. Rather, there should be equality for all religions.”

“The Muslim and the non-Muslim must enjoy religious freedom and an opportunity to fulfil all of his doctrinal requirements. Our view is a compromise between secularism of the capital and the imposition of Islamic provisions on it.

I believe that this is what will be and I believe that these objections that appeared from some parties are voices that are not serious and not understanding of the truth of the matter. The agreement cannot be in favour of one party against another. Rather, it must be a compromise and this is what it will be.”

It is being rumoured that the Ummah Party and the Popular Congress will exit from the sphere of negotiation because neither of them has the ability to affect the course of events through direct participation. It is also being rumoured that the [National Democratic] Alliance has become a shell that is devoid of any strength and meaning after the SPLM stood on its own in negotiating at Machakos.

On this, he said: “Yes, now the situation is different from before. But the negotiating is being done now on a formal basis between the government and the SPLM. However, the political effect is not just limited to being at the negotiating table.

Possibility for southern secession

The presence is in having an effect on the view of what should be agreed to and also in popular pressure. Even with our absence at the negotiating table, we do think that we will have an effect on it through all the other means.”

On the possibility for secession in Sudan, Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi confirmed that it is a big possibility because there is a religious, cultural, and political disparity between the people of the south and the north.

He pointed out that there are strong possibilities for unity and “we expect to find solutions for the issues on which there is disagreement.” He explained that, if there were to be satisfactory solutions, it would contribute toward supporting federation. The opposite is also true.

With respect to the current situation in Sudan, in light of the scenarios of unity and secession, he pointed out that Sudan is inclined to conclude a peace agreement. There might be an opening for voluntary unity in the country.

Need to end dictatorship, establish multiparty political system

He is receptive to a democratic shift to end the dictatorship and establish a multiparty political system. He explained that, if this does not occur, Sudan will enter into violent military confrontations and it could be torn apart and subjected to internationalization. But if a peace agreement and the programs of the democratic transformation can be agreed upon, then the country will avoid internationalization and being torn apart.

On the possibilities of getting things moving through the Sudan Peace Act in the event that peace negotiations fail, he said: “The possibilities are great. In the first place, the US president is demanding that a report be submitted to Congress every six months in accordance with the Sudan Peace Act that confirms what is happening on the peace negotiations.

If he notices in his report that one of the parties is not taking the negotiating seriously, then it means that the Sudan Peace Act will not apply to him.”

Strong Egyptian sympathy for Sudan

With respect to the Egyptian role in the Sudanese crisis, in light of the Egyptian mediation to coordinate between the parties of the dispute in the Sudanese case, he explained that the Egyptian sympathy for Sudan is strong. Egypt’s desire for stability and the unity of Sudan is a strong one.
He pointed out that the opportunity that Egypt had to play a greater role through the joint initiative had been wasted. What is necessary now is for Egypt to play its role through the mediation of IGAD.

Arab League showing proper attitude

As for the role of the Arab League in the Sudanese crisis, he confirmed that it is a sound, proper, and necessary role. He pointed out that the Arab League in the past did not discuss the problems of Sudan except for the Sudanese government’s view. It sanctioned the view of the government. Therefore, it did not have any role [at that time]. He explained that the Arab League is now trying to play a role in peace and development and it is listening to the non- governmental view. This is a proper attitude.