March 14, 2013 (WASHINGTON) – The Sudanese First Vice President Ali Osman Taha met on Monday with the deputy Secretary General of the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) Ali al-Hag in Berlin in the first meeting between the two men in more than a decade.
- Sudanese First Vice President Ali Osman Taha (L) and deputy Secretary General of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) Ali al-Hag
Taha was on a private visit to Germany where he was seeking treatment from an undisclosed illness, Al-Hag told Sudan Tribune in a phone interview from Bonn.
The PCP official said that Taha’s presence was kept under tight wraps and that he had to go to great lengths in order to ascertain whether in fact he had arrived in Germany after his sources from Khartoum tipped him about the 1st VP travel plans.
Al-Hag said that through the years he has made it a habit to get in touch with any Sudanese visiting Germany for medical treatment whether from the government or opposition.
After senior diplomats from the Sudanese embassy in Berlin including the ambassador ignored his phone queries about Taha, he managed to get hold of one of its staff members who conveyed his request for a meeting with the 1st VP.
Although Al-Haj’s two-hour visit to Taha at a Berlin hotel was in essence a social one in which he was accompanied by his wife and son, the two men had a lengthy discussion on political issues.
""He [Taha] asked me why don’t you return home. The country needs you. I told him the situation [in Sudan] is not encouraging and I will not go back simply to sit idly. I have to be able to make a contribution or else it is pointless [to return]," Al-Haj said.
The PCP figure said he tackled a number of issues with Taha including the political environment, relations with South Sudan and the economic situation.
Al-Haj was critical of the events that led to South Sudan’s secession in July 2011 saying that the South was historically the pivotal part of the country even before the oil discoveries.
"Sudan is done after the South went away", he said.
About 2 million people died in the two-decades Sudan’s north-south civil war over ethnicity, religion, oil and ideology.
"My direct question to Taha was, do you want to preserve what is left of Sudan? He [Taha] said yes we do. So my response was that only Sudanese people can do that job. But how can find out what the people want without giving them their freedom to express their views," Al-Haj said.
"Taha agreed in principle but said he believes that the current level of freedom is sufficient," al-Haj said.
He said that his impression after the meeting was that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) recognises that the country is in a very difficult situation but at the same time believes that this crisis can be weathered like the ones in the past.
Taha asked Al-Haj for information about the "New Dawn" charter signed by opposition parties and rebel groups in Uganda last January.
"I told him the signatories are your people. [former senior presidential assistant] Minni Minnawi, [former senior presidential assistant] Mubarak al-Fadil, [former Blue Nile state governor] Malik Agar, [former South Kordofan deputy governor] Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu and the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) were your allies" Al-Haj said.
The document which aggravated Khartoum calls for toppling the regime and preventing the exploitation of religion in politics. The latter was interpreted by the Sudanese government to mean a call for establishing a secular state.
Some of the signatories including the PCP, National Umma Party (NUP), and Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) later distanced themselves from the charter saying they were rushed into it and expressed reservations on some of its clauses.
The Sudanese government launched a fierce media campaign against the deal and detained some of the parties’ representatives who attended the signing upon their return to Khartoum. Some officials even threatened to ban and prosecute all parties that joined the agreement unless they officially dissociate themselves from it.
Al-Haj told Taha that the government’s response to the charter was disproportionate in terms of the threats it made to the opposition parties and the crackdown on those returned from Kampala.
But the opposition figure also said that opposition parties also "went too far" in how quickly they turned around to wash their hands off the agreement they voluntarily signed.
He also confronted Taha about the "unique" restrictions imposed on the PCP inside Sudan.
"I was upfront with him and told him that the PCP is bitter [about the way it is treated by authorities]" Al-Haj said.
He gave an example of two PCP members who were re-arrested hours after being released as part of a presidential pardon.
"It is freedom for everyone except us," Al-Haj complained.
The PCP is led by the Islamist figure Hassan Al-Turabi who was the mastermind behind the 1989 coup that brought Bashir to power. But the pair fell out following the introduction of a bill to limit the president’s powers in 1999, a move which the president resisted by dissolving parliament and declaring a state of emergency.
Ever since Turabi and his party became the most outspoken critics of Bashir’s government and a frequent target of their security sweeps on grounds that it is planning a coup and standing behind the rebellion that broke out in Darfur.