Proposed reconciliation talks between President Omar al-Bashir and ousted Parliamentary Speaker Hassan al-Turabi - a powerful political rival whom Bashir sidelined when he declared a state of emergency and dissolution of the national assembly last week - have been postponed indefinitely. Information Minister Ghazi Salah Eddine Atabani said on Sunday the talks had not taken place on Saturday, as scheduled, and that no new date had been set for them, news organisations reported.
Atabani said Bashir would accept mediation but that the state of emergency and dissolution of parliament were irrevocable, and there was "no question of compromise on the fundamental principle, which is that there will be no return to interference by the (National Congress) party in the affairs of state". Sudan's political crisis was sparked by Bashir's reassertion of authority on Sunday 12 December by dismissing Turabi as legislative leader and dismantling parliament two days before it was expected to pass a bill introduced by pro-Turabi legislators to reduce Bashir's presidential powers.
Turabi calls emergency National Congress Party meeting
Turabi, who denounced what he called "an assault on the people's constitution" and said "Sudan is now led by an autocratic regime", called on Sunday for an emergency meeting of the consultative council of the National Congress Party for 27 December. It would have the party "examine the exclusion of Bashir and his supporters if mediation has failed to make the head of state go back on his decision to dissolve parliament", Agence France Press (AFP) reported. Turabi said parliament had also decided to challenge Bashir's emergency declaration in the constitutional court. He said he would not initiate any violent confrontation, but warned of the possibility of "unrest in the streets of Khartoum" and said the role of the reconciliation committee was "to avert an escalation in the political crisis so that it does not deteriorate into demonstrations and strikes", AFP added.
President enjoys strong support of Arab leaders
There has been strong support for Bashir from Arab leaders, with Saudi Arabia saying at the weekend it was "an internal affair" and both Libyan and Egyptian presidents Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi declaring their support for their Sudanese counterpart. A spokesman for the US State Department, which has led the effort to isolate the Islamist state of Sudan internationally, said it was more a battle of personalities than policies. "What we're looking for is a change of policies in Sudan, policies that would promote reconciliation, an end to the civil war," the 'Washington Post' quoted spokesman James Foley as saying.
Recent pacts make Bashir "more acceptable"
Other regional observers believe Bashir to be less bound by ideology than Turabi, pointing to improved relations with Ethiopia and recent peace deals with opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi and with Uganda as evidence of his political pragmatism. Senior lecturer and research analyst at Nairobi University, Professor Moustafa el Said Hassouna, told IRIN that although Bashir's declaration of a state of emergency was "ill-timed" and had caused "fear and apprehension" in Khartoum, his pact with the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had given him a new dose of legitimacy in the region. "Despite this unprecedented move [suspension of parliament], he is seen as the more acceptable face of the conflict," Hassouna said.
SPLA welcomes "the Bashir coup"
The leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) John Garang has welcomed what he called "the Bashir coup" as a crisis that marked "the beginning of the end of the NIF (the National Islamic Front - renamed the National Congress Party) and its regime". The relative power balance in the Sudanese army between three factions: the Bashir and Turabi factions of the NIF, and "a non-NIF faction, by far the largest group in the army" would be critical in the resolution of the crisis in Khartoum, Garang said in a press release. He also called on the Sudanese people "to remain vigilant and use the crisis within the NIF to bring about full and real change" in the country.
Bashir move may exacerbate NDA tensions
There has been limited response from the leadership of the opposition umbrella National Democratic Alliance, perhaps because it has been highly divided internally in recent months over whether the NDA should negotiate with Khartoum or continue its armed struggle until the regime collapses. The NDA recently agreed in Uganda to support the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) peace talks, but with greater involvement by northern, Islamic elements of the NDA rather than leaving the southern-oriented SPLM/A to negotiate alone. The think-tank Oxford Analytica has suggested that Umma party leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, who caused dissension in NDA ranks by going his own way in signing a recent peace deal with Bashir, may yet have a critical role to play. If he were to switch sides and back Bashir against Turabi, "a more unified government under Bashir could lead to more coherent peace talks", Oxford Analytica said.
IGAD team visits Khartoum to discuss peace talks
Meanwhile, an IGAD delegation arrived in Khartoum late last week for preliminary negotiations on the possibility of holding peace talks in January between the government and the SPLA. The delegation, led by Kenyan presidential envoy to the peace process Daniel Mboya and including diplomats from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti, is exploring the possibility of a new round of talks in Nairobi on 15 January and discussing how to make this work where previous negotiations have failed to make progress, news media reported.
Humanitarian agencies secure access guarantees
The Sudanese government, SPLM/A and humanitarian agencies - under the auspices of Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) - agreed last week in Switzerland on a set of 'Principles Governing the Protection and Provision of Humanitarian Assistance to War-Affected Civilian Populations' in Sudan. They agreed that agencies accredited by the UN should have "free and unimpeded access" to vulnerable populations, with the UN to decide on routes and logistics for humanitarian assessments and deliveries. It was also guaranteed that all aid would be distributed "only to targeted civilian beneficiaries" and would not be taxed or diverted from those. The Principles also bound the SPLM/A - though it is not a formal signatory to international treaties on human rights - to "customary human rights law", moral and ethical obligations to keep civilian populations safe from the effects of war. Khartoum and the SPLM/A also gave undertakings not to enforce illegal relocations of civilians and, where communities were to be relocated, to give adequate notice and consult communities.
Lokichokkio-Kapoeta road corridor planned
Both the government and rebels "reaffirmed their strong commitment to the opening of the Lokichokkio-Kapoeta cross-line corridor" through both the direct route (via Narus, Lolin and Buno) and the detour route (via Narus, Napotpot, Nakachori). It was agreed that arrangements should be made immediately to de-mine the direct route and that an assessment of the detour route should also be completed by February 2000. The UN is also to establish an office in Kapoeta for the receipt and distribution of humanitarian goods. "We have made good progress. We have created a basis for improving access, protection of beneficiaries and security," said Tom Vraalsen, UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Assistance in Sudan.
Contaminated water poses health risk in camps
Water and sanitation have become major health problems in Khartoum's camps for displaced people, with some 90 percent of water samples taken from households in Elsalam and Wad El Bashir camps found to "highly contaminated", according to the International Federation of the Red Cross. While water sources were found to be clean and fit for human consumption, improper handling of water, poor hygiene and sanitation practices - in addition to stagnant water near distribution points - meant that water-borne diseases were a big threat in the camps, which cater for 100,000 and 26,000 people respectively, IFRC reported. The agency planned to introduce a "hygiene and sanitation transformation in the community," it added.
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