Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has announced the release all political prisoners. The move was cautiously welcomed by the opposition as tensions with South Sudan begin to ease.
“Today, we announce a decision to free all the political prisoners and renew our commitment to all political powers about dialogue,” Bashir (pictured) said in a speech opening a new parliamentary session on Monday.
“We confirm we will continue our communication with all political and social powers without excluding anyone, including those who are armed, for a national dialogue which will bring a solution to all issues.”
Leader of the 20-party opposition alliance, Farouk Abu Issa, said Bashir’s announcement was “a step toward genuine dialogue.”
He added that the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) group, which has been fighting government troops for the past two years in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, had demanded al-Bashir release the detainees.
Rights group, the Sudanese Organisation for Defence of Rights and Freedoms, said “there was a large number” of detainees in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, including 118 SPLM-N prisoners.
“It’s a step forward,” the group’s spokesman Farouk Mohammed Ibrahim said, adding, “(the announcement) is very good news.”
Jehanne Henry from Human Rights Watch in New York told DW in an interview that “we would urge the government to release all of them, not just the very high profile ones.”
Al-Bashir, who has been in power since 1989, did not outline when or how many detainees would be released.
PLM-N chairman, Malik Agar, declined to comment on the announcement, saying only, he was “not sure which political prisoners (al-Bashir) was referring to.”
The president’s announcement comes a week after Vice President Ali Osman Taha invited rebel groups to help draft a new constitution following the south’s succession in July 2011.
In early March, both Sudan and South Sudan agreed to end hostilities and resume cross-border oil flows as well as implementing a detailed timeline for crucial economic and security pacts in the hope of easing tensions between the two countries.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity, genocide and other serious offenses connected to the Dafur conflict.