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UK open to helping Sudanese government and opposition launch dialogue

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January 16, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – The United Kingdom Foreign Office Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds today expressed shock about Sudan’s handling of protesters who took the streets last September against the government’s decision to lift fuel subsidies.

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British Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds holds a press conference at the end of an official visit to Sudan in the capital Khartoum on January 16, 2014 (AFP Photo/Ebrahim Hamid)

The government says that 84 people were killed in these demonstrations but rights groups insist that figures stand at more than 200.

At a press conference in Khartoum, Simmonds said that Sudan has the political will that could enable it to meet challenges and crises facing it. He expressed his country’s readiness to help the government and opposition conduct a national dialogue to resolve the problems in Sudan.

"We have sensed in the course of discussions the existence of a will in and outside the government to get out of the crisis," he said.

The UK official called on the government to expand freedoms, noting that conflicts serve only to exacerbate the situation.

Simmonds said that his meetings with government officials since Tuesday dealt with issues including the conflict in Darfur, Blue Nile, South Kordofan, human rights as well as the effects on the economy by the reduced flow of oil from South Sudan as a result of the ongoing crisis.

He disclosed that UK is in contact with all parties in South Sudan for the sake of ending the violence there stressing his country’s position that a solution cannot be imposed through military force. He hailed Sudan’s position on the crisis as balanced adding that Khartoum is playing an important role elsewhere in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Somalia which will positively impact the country’s international standing.

The UK official said that they will work to have the South Sudan rivals sit down adding that they support the ongoing efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) that is sponsoring negotiations between Juba and rebels.

Earlier today the Sudanese finance Minister Badr al-Deen Mahmood complained during a meeting with Simmonds that the hefty external debt hurts the country and limits its access to concessional borrowing.

Mahmood underscored the importance of the international community helping Sudan obtain debt relief that would allow it to obtain loans to support the country’s development.

He stressed that Sudan fulfilled the conditions stipulated by the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative but has yet to receive any form of debt relief.

Simmonds said that resolving Sudan’s debts is contingent upon Khartoum approving poverty reduction strategy which means the ball is in its court.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in a report released last November that Sudan’s debt will hit $44.7 billion this year which amounts to 85% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

(ST)

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