DATE=4/6/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=SUDAN / POLITICS (L-ONLY) NUMBER=2-261015 BYLINE=LISA BRYANT DATELINE=CAIRO CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Senior members of Sudan's influential Umma opposition party are returning home (today/Thursday) after years in exile. Lisa Bryant reports from Cairo that their return, apparently aimed at drumming up popular support in Sudan, comes after a rare meeting in Egypt this week between the Umma Party's leader, former Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq el Mahdi, and President Omar el Bashir. TEXT: Mr. Mahdi said he discussed with President Bashir the fact that Sudan is, as Mr. Mahdi puts it, at a crossroads. Mr. Mahdi says the president agreed that Sudan needs a comprehensive peace settlement. /// 1st MAHDI ACT /// Our meeting has reviewed the situation [and] agreed that we should all be working very seriously towards making this enterprise a success that should get everyone on board. We hope that if all are involved in this process as we expect, then it is possible to arrive at this comprehensive peace agreement. /// END ACT /// Sudan has been fighting a protracted civil war, which initially pitted the mostly Islamic north against the Christian and animist south. Mr. Mahdi, who heads the northern Muslim Ansar religious movement, reflects a broader opposition that has since united against the current regime. Former Prime Minister Mahdi, who was deposed in a 1989 coup led by President Bashir, fled into self-imposed exile in 1996. Until recently, he has worked with the National Democratic Alliance, an opposition coalition that aims to topple the current government. However, Mr. Mahdi says there is now a greater political openness in Sudan, and the return of about 50 Umma Party members reflects that fact. /// 2nd MAHDI ACT /// We are not going because we have agreed with the regime on anything. We are going because we think there is a greater margin. [It is] quite clear: Margin for political activity today is greater than it was in 1996. This is true by any standard. /// END ACT /// A dialogue between the Umma Party and the government began last year, when Mr. Mahdi met with Sudanese religious leader Hassan el Turabi. Late last year, the party signed a reconciliation agreement with the government. The deal was harshly criticized by members of the opposition N-D-A, and Umma has since split with the alliance. // OPT // Mr. Mahdi says his party will not return to the N-D-A fold until the alliance undertakes major reforms. He also says the alliance's entrenched opposition to the Bashir regime was ineffective. // END OPT // A member of the N-D-A opposition, Abdon Agaw Nhial, criticizes the Umma Party's decision to resume political activity in Sudan. Mr. Nhial says the government's gestures toward more political freedoms, including allowing greater press coverage, are a mirage. // OPT // Mr. Nhial notes that several journalists in Sudan were detained last month, after a newspaper published a poem ostensibly critical of the government. If the opposition returns, he says it will find political doors are slammed shut. // END OPT // But Mr. Mahdi says the Umma Party has no intention of working within the system until the Bashir administration agrees to a new constitution. He says political reconciliation must also take place. Mr. Mahdi does not rule out returning to Sudan. He says that matter will be discussed at an upcoming Umma Party conference. (SIGNED) NEB/LB/GE/WTW 06-Apr-2000 12:12 PM EDT (06-Apr-2000 1612 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .
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