The Sudanese government and a faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) on Sunday signed a declaration of principles which paves the way for peace talks after months of deadlock.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) faction led by Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu is one of two groups that have yet to sign a final peace agreement with the transitional government. It was demanding that Sudan dispenses with sharia law and becomes a secular, democratic state.
Sharia law was first imposed in Sudan in 1983, and maintained by the former president Omar Al-Bashir for the duration of his 30-year-long Islamist rule.
The ‘Declaration of Principles’ signed by both sides in South Sudan’s capital Juba agreed to “the establishment of a civil, democratic federal state in Sudan, wherein, the freedom of religion, the freedom of belief and religious practices and worship shall be guaranteed to all Sudanese people by separating the identities of culture, religion, ethnicity and religion from the state.”
“No religion shall be imposed on anyone and the state shall not adopt official religion,” it further said.
The roadmap agreement outlines priorities including the unification of armed forces and the establishment of a democratic, secular state with freedom of religion. It also said “a military solution cannot lead to lasting peace and stability in the country” and that a “peaceful and just political solution must be a common goal”.
The document was signed by Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereign Council General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu, head of the SPLM-N wing, which is active in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states where it controls significant chunks of territory.
Speaking during the signing ceremony, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan said the signing of the declaration of principles is a crucial step in efforts by the transitional government to reach peace agreements with opposition groups.
“We will work hard to realize peace and stability because all of us believe that there are real issues that need to be addressed. And these are demands that can strengthen the unity of Sudan and make it a country where citizens have equal rights,” Al-Burhan said.
For his part, SPLM-N Chairman Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu said the signing of the declaration of principles will pay the way for comprehensive peace negotiations that will lead to change in Sudan. He further said the upcoming peace talks will address key issues affecting the people of Sudan.
“Reform efforts to transform Sudan into a democratic state will continue, and how to formulate a democratic constitution are some of the questions that need to be answered in Sudan,” Al-Hilu said.
Saleh Idris, a Sudanese national living in Juba, said that reaching a consensus on the declaration of principles was a breakthrough that would now accelerate peace negotiations between both sides.
“I urge both sides to seriously begin the negotiations phase. So, we want this step to continue, we don’t want it to just stop at the level of the declaration of principles,” Idris said.
Sudan’s government has been engaging in peace talks with opposition groups for the past two years, looking to stabilize the country. Last year, Sudan’s transitional government and another rebel alliance signed a peace accord.
After Sunday’s signing, only one rebel group – a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) – remains a significant security challenge to the Sudanese government