Sudanese opposition parties welcome peace agreement, thousands welcome return of government delegation

Jan. 1 (AP)

Sudanese opposition parties on Saturday embraced the peace agreement signed on Friday between the government and southern rebels to end a 21-year civil war and thousands at the Khartoum airport welcomed the return of the government delegation that negotiated the deal.

"The signing of the peace agreement is a big step toward establishing democracy and a just peace," Sadiq el-Mahdi, the leader of Umma, Sudan's largest opposition party, told state-run Omdurman radio.

El-Mahdi, the country's last democratically elected prime minister who was overthrown by President Omar el-Bashir in 1989, said the peace agreement should be approved by all national political parties to "turn the bilateral agreement into a national peace agreement."

Thousands at the Khartoum airport on Saturday welcomed the return of the government delegation from Naivasha, headed by Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha.

El-Bashir and South African President Thabo Mbeki, who witnessed the signing of the deal, traveled to el-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, to celebrate the peace deal, according to the governor of North Darfur.

"The peace agreement is a new birthday for Sudan that should be protected by freedom and democracy," said Bashir Adam Rahma, head of the Islamic-oriented opposition Popular Congress party. But unresolved issues remain among the parties -- Rahma called on the government to lift the state of emergency and release all political prisoners.

Rahma also expressed regret that a separate conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur had not been yet resolved, saying peace in Sudan "is not complete without signing another agreement that brings stability and security" to Darfur.

Another opposition party pressed for the release of agreement details to the public.

"It is the right of the people to ask the government to tell the truth on all issues so that the agreement would not rebound or backlash," said Tajelsir Mohammed Saleh, a senior member of the moderate opposition Democratic Unionist party.

In Cairo, the 22-member Arab League said in a statement that it would "continue its efforts in the next stage to allow peace prevails all over Sudan," indicating regional concerns about the ongoing conflict in Darfur.

The newly signed agreement details protocols on
sharing legislative power and natural resources, changing the armed forces during a six-year transition period, and methods to administer three disputed areas in central Sudan.

Sudan's two-decade civil war pitted the Khartoum government, led by Arab Muslims who dominated the north, against rebels made up mainly of Christians and animists, who are the majority in the south. The conflict is blamed for more than 2 million deaths, primarily from war-induced famine and disease.