August 17, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – The African Union (AU) has decided to set up a higher committee to support Sudan’s ongoing national dialogue and tasked its chief mediator, Thabo Mbeki, with chairing it.
Mbeki, who arrived in Khartoum late on Saturday, met with the leader of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) Hassan al-Turabi and urged the government to release political detainees and offer guarantees for the rebel groups in order to encourage them to join the national dialogue.
In January, Bashir called on political parties and rebel groups to engage in a national dialogue to discuss ways to bring peace in the country and to achieve constitutional reforms.
The opposition umbrella of the National Consensus Forces (NCF), gathering left forces, boycotted the political roundtable, asking the government first to stop war and create a conducive environment for the dialogue.
The rebel alliance of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rejected Bashir’s call, saying the government only seeks to buy time in order to produce another version of the same regime.
In April, however the SRF released a roadmap for holding a “national constitutional dialogue” , after the signing of a humanitarian cessation of hostilities and direct talks on issues related to the conflict regions and security arrangements with all rebel groups.
National Umma Party (NUP) leader al-Sadiq al-Mahdi suspended its participation in the political process after his detention in May.
A national dialogue committee, known as 7+7, comprised of equal numbers of government parties and opposition ones last week adopted a framework agreement for the dialogue process.
Mbeki, the former South African president, and his delegation held a meeting with the members of the dialogue mechanism, where participants briefed him on what has been achieved and their upcoming plans.
The members of the 7+7 committee from the opposition side, Ahmed Abu al-Gasim Hashim, told the pro-government Sudan Media Center (SMC) website that Mbeki informed them of the AU’s decision to form a higher committee to support the dialogue.
The presidential assistant and member of the 7+7 committee, Ibrahim Ghandour, told reporters following Mbeki’s meeting with the committee that the latter informed them of his commitment to face regional and international powers which seek to hinder the national dialogue.
He quoted Mbeki as saying he is ready to meet with the rebel groups and political parties which refused to engage in the dialogue, pointing that the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/North (SPLM-N) signalled flexibility to participate in the dialogue.
According to Ghandour, Mbeki also said that participation of political parties in the dialogue does not suffice, demanding participation of the civil society in order for the dialogue to be representative of all components of the Sudanese society.
The presidential assistant further said they handed Mbeki the framework agreement reached by the 7+7 committee, saying the latter demanded “additional guarantees” in order to engage the rebel groups into the dialogue besides releasing all political prisoners.
The 7+7 committee had endorsed a roadmap to hold the national dialogue conference within the coming two days.
The roadmap called for the release of all political prisoners, including Sudanese Congress Party (SCoP) leader Ibrahim al-Shiekh and deputy chairman of the National Umma Party (NUP) Meriam al-Mahdi, as well as allowing political liberties and freedom of expression.
The political secretary of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) and member of the 7+7 committee from the opposition side, Kamal Omer, said in statements following the meeting that they briefed Mbeki on the procedures included in the roadmap, noting that they had asked him to support the national dialogue in the coming period.
He said the AU would “witness” the national dialogue due to the important role it plays in resolving the Sudanese crisis, stressing that they asked Mbeki to convince the rebel groups and political forces which refused to participate in the dialogue.
“We asserted to them [AU’s delegation] commitment of all dialogue parties to the confidence building measures including the release of all political detainees and convicts”, he added.
The cabinet affairs minister and member of the 7+7 committee, Ahmed Saad Omer, said the AU delegation expressed their understanding of the roadmap, adding that they asked them to work with the committee to convince the armed groups to join the dialogue.
TALKS WITH THE SPLM-N
In a separate meeting, Mbeki discussed with Ghandour peace talks with the rebels groups in Darfur region, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
He told reporters that they tackled the resumption of peace talks with the SPLM-N adding that no date has been determined yet.
He added that Mbeki and the joint peace mediator for Darfur conflict Mohamed Ibn Chambas will travel soon to Doha to discuss with Qatari deputy prime minister Ahmed bin Abduulah al-Mahmoud ways to complete peace in Darfur through “dialogue between the government and rebel groups" in Western Sudan.
The rebels refuse to hold separate talks with the government and demand unifying the two peace process.