Sudanese opposition seeks postponement in deal with military

Sudanese pro-democracy movement seeks delay in signing of second part of power-sharing deal with military

CAIRO -- Sudan's pro-democracy movement is seeking to postpone the signing of the second and possibly more contentious part of a power-sharing agreement with the country's military, saying Friday that it needs more time to resolve differences among its members over the deal.

The first part of the deal was signed earlier this week, marking a significant step forward amid simmering tensions between the protest movement and the country's military, which in April ousted longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

The two sides were expected to meet Friday, negotiate and subsequently sign the so-called constitutional declaration that defines how much power each would have in the transitional period until elections are held in Sudan.

Some leaders of the pro-democracy movement flew to Ethiopia on Friday to meet with leaders of the Revolutionary Front, an alliance of rebel groups who are also members of the pro-democracy coalition. The Revolutionary Front had rejected the deal struck with the military arguing it failed to meet their demands for the peace.

"The Revolutionary Front was present in all talks from the beginning. Its representatives pulled out only from the last two sessions," said Ahmed Rabie, a leader of the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a broad-based coalition including independent professional unions, traditional political parties and other groups that represent protesters. "We will try to understand their viewpoint."

For decades, Sudan has been convulsed by rebellions in the provinces by ethnic and religious minorities who felt marginalized or oppressed by the Khartoum government, which is dominated by northern Sudanese Arab Muslims.

The Revolutionary Front includes rebel groups from Darfur as well as Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

Rasha Awad, editor of the online Sudanese newspaper Altaghyeer, said a transition to democracy is contingent upon the achievement of peace with these armed groups.

"The lack of peace always justifies the overblown role of the military and security bodies as well as the elimination of civil liberties," she said. "Throughout Sudan's history, all attempts of democratic rule were aborted because they were not preceded by the achievement of peace."

Sudan's government fought a decades-long war in mostly Christian and animist South Sudan until its secession in 2011. When an insurgency broke out in the western Darfur province in 2003, al-Bashir mobilized Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, who carried out a wave of atrocities against ethnic African groups there. The International Criminal Court later indicted al-Bashir on charges of genocide, the only time it has issued an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state. Another war has been underway since 2011 in the provinces of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

Other groups within the pro-democracy coalition had rejected the deal arguing that it came with too many concessions to the generals.

The document signed Wednesday would establish a joint civilian-military sovereign council that would rule Sudan for a little over three years while elections are organized. A military leader will head the 11-member council for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for the next 18.

It marks a significant concession by the protesters, who had demanded an immediate transition to civilian rule. The pro-democracy movement would appoint a Cabinet, and the two sides would agree on a legislative body within three months of the start of the transition.

However, many divisive issues are yet to be discussed in the constitutional document including whether to grant the military a larger legislative and executive mandate as well as immunity from prosecution over the killing of protesters.

"We can never accept the kind of immunity that was proposed," said Rabie, adding that the military council has agreed during recent talks to the FDFC demand to deny anyone full immunity from prosecution.