Sudan proposes referendum, early elections after peace agreement

June 9 (AFP)

The Sudanese government has proposed the holding of a nationwide referendum and general elections once a peace settlement is reached with the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), a senior official said in remarks published Monday.

A referendum "would ensure a national consensus" on such an agreement, presidential peace adviser Ghazi Salah Eddin Atabani told Al-Anbaa newspaper after talks Sunday with Kenya's chief peace mediator General Lazaro Sumbeiywo. Sumbeiywo said he expects an agreement to be reached in August that would end a 20-year civil war between Khartoum and the rebels.

"We also demand the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections on the heels of the referendum, that is, during the first year of the (six-year) transitional period," Atabani was quoted as saying. Sudan last held multi-party elections 17 years ago.

Elections would "show the actual, rather than the historical weights of the political parties", he said, challenging the opposition Umma and Democratic Unionist parties which beat the National Islamic Front (NIF) in 1986. The Islamist-dominated ruling National Congress (NC) emerged from the NIF, which backed General Omar al-Beshir in a military coup in 1989.

Even though such a meeting had been expected during his six-day visit here, Sumbeiywo did not meet President Beshir. On his last day here on Sunday, the Kenyan mediator instead met First Vice President Ali Osman Taha, who reiterated his government's efforts to reach peace, according to presidential palace sources.

Sumbeiywo briefed Taha on his meetings with Khartoum government officials and on the outcome of a tour the mediator made of the Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains which are part of peace negotiations between Khartoum and the SPLA.

The chief mediator, according to the Joint Monitoring Mission (JMM) which supervises a ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains, met with South Kordofan State's government officials as well as officials of the JMM and Joint Military Commission (JMC) and ordinary Nubians to see how a ceasefire between the government and SPLA is being observed there.

General Sumbeiywo was apparently impressed with the situation in the Nuba Mountains. "JMC should form the nucleus of a peace monitoring mission for the whole of southern Sudan," he was quoted as saying in a JMM statement.

Sudan's civil war has since 1983 pitted the Khartoum government, representing the mostly Islamic Arab north, against the SPLA, based in the country's mainly Christian and animist south.

The Kenyan mediator arrived here on May 3 for talks with Sudanese officials aimed at removing stumbling blocks to the negotiations in Kenya. Negotiations in the Kenyan town of Machakos last July produced a landmark deal under which southern Sudan will have six years of administrative autonomy and not be subject to the Islamic laws applied in the north.

At the end of the six years, its people will be asked to vote on whether they want to stay part of Sudan or secede.