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Southern Sudan Official Welcomes President al-Bashir's Promise to Hold Free Elections

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir is promising to hold "free" elections soon to guarantee the stability of his country. Bashir, who faces a possible arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Darfur, told leaders of the opposition Umma Party Thursday to prepare themselves for elections because, according to him, there is no security and economic stability without political stability.

The International Criminal Court is expected to rule on March fourth on whether to issue a warrant for President Bashir's arrest. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who is on a five-nation African tour, acknowledged Thursday that the widely expected arrest warrant could result in political fallout.

President Bashir's promise to hold free elections comes after two days of clashes between government troops and militia in a southern Sudanese town killed at least 14 civilians and scores of fighters.

Pagan Amum is Secretary General of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and now Minister for Cabinet Affairs in the Government of National Unity. He told VOA there is still a lot to overcome before free and fair elections in Sudan.

"That is a welcome statement by President Bashir promising free and fair elections. But still President Bashir and his National Congress Party have a lot to do to achieve free and fair elections. First of all they have to agree to amend and disband those laws that restrict freedom which they still maintained, especially the freedom of press laws as well as also the national security laws that have the powers to carry out arbitrary arrests our citizens for long periods up to six months. These laws cannot make the country ready for free and fair elections," he said.

Sudanese officials and the Justice and Equality Movement, a leading rebel faction in Darfur signed an agreement last week in Doha, Qatar to continue peace talks.

Some Analysts say the agreement with Darfur rebels and the announcement to hold free elections could be part of an attempt by President al-Bashir to undermine a possible ICC arrest warrant.

Amum would not say whether President al-Bashir was trying to undermine a possible ICC arrest warrant, but he said free and fair election is part of the Comprehensive Agreement that ended the war between the north and south.

"Well I cannot tell the motives behind the statement of the president, but a free and fair election is part of the agreement that ended the war and it is included in the interim constitution that the country shall have elections in the middle of the interim period. What we want to see is that elections take place and there is need to ensure that they are free and fair to give an opportunity and a change for the Sudanese to elect their own government," Amum said.

Bashir's free elections promise also comes after two days of clashes between government troops and militia in a southern Sudanese town killed at least 14 civilians and scores of fighters.

Amum blamed Sudanese army for the attacks in the town of Malakal.

"The attacks were caused by some Sudan army militia generals who went to Malakal, and this is the second time that this caused this problem that led to the loss of lives of many of our people. This is a very unfortunate development and definitely the National Congress must stop this provocation," Amum said.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, nearly 90,000 Sudanese refugees have returned to various parts of South Sudan from neighboring countries.

Amum said the return is a sign that there is some peace in southern Sudan.

"It is continuing, and in Southern Sudan there is peace. The government of Southern Sudan is doing everything to bring back a lot of our people, and of course the peace agreement created a chance for our people to rebuild their lives after so many years of war," Amum said.

He welcomed the recent agreement between the National Congress Party of Sudan and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement.

"We are for speedy negotiations that will end the conflict in Darfur so that we can have a comprehensive peace all over the country. We will want to see that all the agreements are implemented and the war comes to an end in Darfur so that we could seek to build a democratic system based on freedom of our citizens," Amum said.