Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 9 October 2003

Sudanese opposition leader opposes accord to merge rebel, government forces


BBC Monitoring Africa, Oct 09, 2003

Text of interview by Sudanese opposition Ummah Party leader Sadiq al-Mahdi to London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat published on 6 October

[Newspaper introduction] The leader of the Sudanese opposition Ummah Party, Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, has rejected the principle of considering "the joint forces" of the Sudanese government and the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] (devised under the agreement on security arrangements recently signed by both parties) as a foundation for a national army. He called for the establishment of national armed forces, which would be subject to defined rules in terms of recruitment. In an interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Al- Mahdi said that the Sudanese first vice-president, who was recently in Cairo, had asked him about his return to Khartoum. Al-Mahdi told him that he left Sudan in a normal way and not because of any political considerations. Therefore, he would return to Sudan in a normal way. Because of "some circumstances and problems", he thought it was better for him to remain in Cairo. Al-Mahdi also ruled out the conclusion of a partnership between the government and the SPLA along the lines of what is called a "catholic marriage" which cannot be dissolved. He indicated that "this is because both parties have totally different ideological platforms". He also warned his party "would strongly oppose such a move, if it felt that the agreement was based on monopoly, totalitarianism, or removal of sovereignty from the Sudanese people". Here is the full interview:

[Al-Abidin] What are the negative and the positive aspects of the agreement on security and military arrangements?

[Al-Mahdi] Let’s start with the positive aspects: First, this agreement takes the relations between both warring parties in Sudan from the fighting field to the negotiating table. Second, it is based on the recognition of the current arrangements, which reflect the reality of the situation in the field. Third, it will open the way to a lasting cease-fire. Overall, it is a positive agreement. However, among the negative aspects of the agreement is the fact that it involved two parties only. Therefore it is essential to find a way of transforming it into a national agreement and not a bilateral one. The second negative aspect is the fact that the agreement involved the international community and countries of the Horn of Africa, while North African countries were absent. Besides, the agreement contains a provision that is damaging to national unity, insofar as the southerners within the armed forces now only have one option: either to enrol in the popular army or to disband. We believe that they should be given the possibility of choosing between remaining within the armed forces or joining the SPLA. Another negative aspect is the fact that the joint forces will be subjected to a joint technical leadership. Such an initiative will necessarily have some political dimensions. Therefore, it is essential that the armed forces be placed under the supervision of a national defence council involving both military and political structures. Among the agreement’s limitations, which are mentioned but not defined, is the fact that the document underlines a new military doctrine. Such a new doctrine should not interfere in the issue of power. This is an important factor, as it represents a political framework for the agreement.

[Al-Abidin] Do you think that the partnership between the government and the SPLA concerning the issue of the army could have a negative impact on other political movements in the future?

[Al-Mahdi] We totally reject the idea that the partnership between the two parties could be the foundation of the national army. What is required is the formation of national armed forces. This objective implies the introduction of norms for the recruitment of the future members of such an army. We believe that there are many aspects related to this matter. Neither the issue of the army nor the security question has been addressed. In fact, it is essential to resolve these two issues. This will help us answer first, the question related to the capacity of the armed forces to repel any external aggression or any internal problem. We should also address the future of many soldiers who lost their jobs after the coup. It is essential to take their case into consideration. In addition, what are they going to do in order to remove the hostile ideological orientation? In order to address all these issues, Ummah Party suggests setting up a workshop aimed at tackling the military and security questions, with the view of putting forward some precise suggestions on this matter, bearing in mind that the conference did not have enough time to tackle these issues.

[Al-Abidin] How about the Council of National Partners?

[Al-Mahdi] We have submitted specific suggestions to deal with the issue relating to the absence of the other political movements. This issue can be resolved by the creation of a body called the Council of National Partners, which will be entrusted with organizing the participation of the others, as a means of completing the negotiations and not as an alternative to such negotiations. An invitation should be sent out to the mediating countries such as Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, and South Africa. These countries should be involved in any international action in terms of follow up and support for the agreement.

[Al-Abidin] Did the Sudanese first vice-president raise the question of your return to Sudan, during your recent meeting with him in Cairo?

[Al-Mahdi] He asked me about my return and I told him what I had already said in my speech on 27 Rajab in Khartoum. I told him that I left Sudan in a normal way and not because of any political considerations. Therefore, I will return to Sudan in a normal way. This will happen soon. In the past, because of some problems, I thought it was better for me to remain in Cairo. This option has paid off, and I will return because basically we did not abandon our belief that internal mobilization and organization are the essential elements required.
[Al-Abidin] Do you think that the agreement between the government and the SPLA could lead to a partnership between the National Congress Party and the SPLA?

[Al-Mahdi] I believe that any understanding between the two parties would represent the minimum required for the agreement. I would rule out any partnership between the government and the SPLA in the form of a catholic marriage. However, it would be better that each party keeps its ideological identity while agreeing on the minimum and giving the Sudanese people the choice through elections. The Sudanese people will therefore judge each party. If both parties decided to take into account the opinion of the Sudanese people, then Al-Ummah Party will strongly and enthusiastically support this agreement. But if we feel that the agreement is based on monopoly, continuous totalitarianism, or removing the sovereignty from the Sudanese people, then we will strongly oppose it.

[Al-Abidin] Do you think that the presence of equal forces in Khartoum would give the huge number of southerners an opportunity to practice their culture freely, rather than generate problems with regards to the implementation of the Islamic laws in the capital?

[Al-Mahdi] We decided to deal with these issues in a realistic way. Regarding the presence of southerners among the SPLA in the capital, there is no doubt that, with peace prevailing, they will have the option of voluntarily returning to their regions after the stabilization of the country. This will be part of the normalization process. Second, regarding the joint armed forces, I think that they should be under the control of a rather disciplined leadership, in order to prevent these forces from interfering in politics. As for the capital, given the need for its nationalistic aspect, it is essential that the principles of each religion should be respected. Such respect should be reciprocal for all parties involved.

[Al-Abidin] But the government has rejected any concession with regards to the implementation of Islamic laws in the capital. Besides, the government did not endorse any of the suggestions you put forward.

[Al-Mahdi] We do not believe in the secularization of the capital, contrary to what some people hastened to attribute to us. What we meant was the restructuring of the religious relations, on the basis of respect for all religions. In fact we suggested a religious pact and other pacts for all aspects. The aim is to rebuild the nation. We are in the process of dealing with human beings; therefore it is essential that such deals are based on joint concepts. If this cannot be achieved, the situation could lead to radicalism, violence, and other problems.

[Al-Abidin] There are some suggestions from the government and the SPLA that the remaining issues would be easy to solve, such as power and resource sharing. Do you share the same views?

[Al-Mahdi] Regarding the issue of power during the first stage, there will be a partnership between both warring factions in accordance with the situation in the field. We hope that there will be a role for the other movements. But we believe that this transitional period should be limited and should not exceed two years. After that, there should be a power sharing process in accordance with the outcome of the elections and not on the basis of political arrangements between the parties involved. In addition to the elections and to power sharing, we are also interested in two other issues: The committee for the review of the constitution, bearing in mind that such a constitution will determine the future of power. The second issue is related to public liberties, which will guarantee a role within the nation to all political movements.

[Al-Abidin] What about the distribution of resources?

[Al-Mahdi] With regard to this matter, we have suggested the following: A share for the region where the resources are located, a share aimed at balancing the level of development between regions, a share earmarked for addressing the effects of the war, and a share for the general treasury. These shares should represent the basis for any distribution. This means that sharing the resources should not be limited to two parties. Neither should it be based on pressure from one party or another. If this approach is not adopted, the door will be permanently open to confrontation and greed.

[Al-Abidin] Do you think that regional, international, and popular support for both parties involved in the agreement will strengthen them in terms of confronting the other parties that are demanding to exercise their political rights?

[Al-Mahdi] From my point of view, we welcome the international support for the agreement. But in the end, the international community is not blind; it supports peace, justice, democracy, and human rights. We believe that if the world support for the agreement has no limit, then we will have to advise and lobby the countries involved in such support. It should be noted that the international community has the possibility of following up and assessing the agreement. This is why we are not annoyed by this matter. For the agreement to become a lasting feature and to enjoy popular and international support, it has to go beyond the two parties involved. Besides, it should not become a means with which to isolate and oppress the others. I do not believe that this agreement is a "smart" deal. However, I predict that both parties will eventually opt for a smart deal, which will transform this agreement into a crucial achievement for Sudan. If this is the case, both parties involved may deserve to play a real historical role. But if they choose a foolish deal, they will appear short-sighted and it will be easy to break the agreement.

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