Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said that he will release all political detainees, as tensions ease following recent agreements with South Sudan.
“Today, we announce a decision to free all the political prisoners and renew our commitment to all political powers about dialogue,” Bashir said in a speech opening a new session of parliament 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 the issues,” the president said.
Al Jazeera’s Harriet Martin, reporting from the capital Khartoum, said that the move marked a shift in direction from the government.
“It started implementing a six-month-old peace agreement with the South and also in recent weeks announced it would hold direct talks with a rebel group on its southern border,” Martin said.
She said the reason for the change was because of the economic impact South Sudan had felt since it split from Sudan in 2011.
“It’s lost the oil dollars from the South and that means that this government is facing a very bumpy, at least in the short term, economic future and it seems that by announcing now a sincere need for a political dialogue which will include all groups, it’s trying to avoid a bumpy political future as well,” said our correspondent.
Bashir’s statement elaborated on an offer made last week by Vice President Ali Osman Taha, who reached out to rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states as well as to opposition political parties, whom he invited to join a constitutional dialogue.
The alliance of opposition parties and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) rejected the vice president’s call.
Eight days ago, the leader of the alliance, Farouk Abu Issa, said three opposition members were detained after police forcibly dispersed a rally demanding the release of six other regime opponents held for several weeks.
The six were detained for their connection with a conference in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, which led to a charter for toppling Bashir’s 24-year regime.
US-based Human Rights Watch in February said the six should be charged or released.
At a rare news conference last week, Vice President Taha suggested that as relations with South Sudan improve, there is a less restrictive political atmosphere within Sudan.
But Issa said his call for dialogue was “the same line”.
Bashir Adam Rahma, foreign relations secretary of the Popular Congress opposition party, said the government “junta” has a history of calling for dialogue “on their own terms”.
Sudan needs a new constitution to replace the 2005 document based on a peace agreement which ended a 23-year civil war and led to South Sudan’s separation in July 2011.
Singling out the SPLM-N chairman and his deputy, Taha called on “opposition parties and Malik Agar and Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu to take part in writing the new constitution”.
Agar told the AFP news agency that Taha had misled the public by inviting rebels for talks.
The rebel chief instead called for dialogue under a UN Security Council resolution.
Bashir’s government had long rejected negotiations with the rebels who have been fighting for almost two years in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.