/ 26 October 2009

Opposition parties walk out of Sudan Parliament

Sudan’s opposition parties walked out of Parliament on Monday after President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s party refused to back down on reforming the intelligence service, parliamentarians said.

The powerful security forces were blamed by opponents for mass murder and torture during the north-south civil war.

A 2005 peace deal to end the north-south conflict included a new democratic Constitution limiting the powers of the security service to gathering intelligence.

Al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) tabled a National Security Forces law in Parliament that would allow the intelligence service to retain widespread powers of arrest and search.

Analysts say Sudan’s national security and intelligence forces are almost as powerful as the army, controlling myriad militias and facing little accountability for their actions.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which entered into coalition government after signing the 2005 peace deal, and opposition parties have described the NCP’s proposals as unconstitutional.

Both sides have launched media campaigns to push their point of view and opposition parties say they will boycott elections due in less than six months if laws are not amended in line with the new Constitution.

Farouq Abu Eissa, a member of the opposition alliance, said: ”It would not be acceptable to pass this law with only the northerners present,” before his people left the session on Monday.

The move has sparked a political stand-off a week after Washington outlined a new policy of incentives to Khartoum to implement the 2005 deal but warning of penalties if it stalled.

”It is now a Parliament of one party,” said deputy speaker Atem Garang from the SPLM, which began a boycott of the session last week. ”The opposition alliance walked out today [Monday] and those that are left are NCP allies.”

”If they are serious and have the political will then they should make sure that all the Bills … should move … and then they would resolve this crisis they have created,” he added.

In addition to the divisive National Security Forces Bill, laws guiding a southern referendum on secession due in 2011, trade unions and other matters have not been agreed.

Showing no sign of compromise, NCP Justice Minister Abdel Basit Sabderat said a national security force without powers of arrest and search would be ”an invitation to chaos”.

Senior NCP official Ibrahim Ghandour accused the SPLM of holding up democracy, questioning how a boycott would advance talks on the law.

”We are not going to stop the Parliament holding its sessions, because we are about to start the election process,” he said.

Electoral registration will begin on November 1 in Africa’s largest country ahead of the already much-delayed first multiparty vote in 24 years, which is due in April.

Sudan’s north-south civil war claimed two million lives and drove more than four million from their homes, destabilising much of East Africa. — Reuters