Senior Sudan Opposition Figure Held after Deal with Rebels


Sudanese security agents on Tuesday arrested a senior member of the opposition Umma Party after it reached a deal in Paris to cooperate with rebels, an Umma official said.

Mariam al-Mahdi, deputy leader of the party led by her father Sadiq al-Mahdi, had just landed in Sudan after participating in the Paris talks between Umma and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of anti-regime armed movements from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

In May, Sadiq al-Mahdi himself was also detained by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), spending one month in custody.

His case sparked concern from Western governments and raised questions about the Sudanese regime's commitment to a "national dialogue" aimed at resolving the impoverished, war-ravaged country's problems.

Umma's secretary general, Sara Najdallah, told Agence France Presse she was waiting at Khartoum airport for Mariam al-Mahdi's Qatar Airways flight when she received information that Mariam "was detained on the steps of the plane."

Mariam later called her husband to tell him "she was being held at the security building," Najdallah said.

At the Paris meeting, Sadiq al-Mahdi signed a deal with SRF chairman Malik Agar to work together to solve Sudan's crises, although Umma supports non-violent change.

Sadiq al-Mahdi, a political fixture since the 1960s, was prime minister when President Omar al-Bashir seized power 25 years ago in an Islamist-backed coup.

The Umma chief has more recently been regarded with suspicion by many Sudanese, partly because one of his sons is a Bashir adviser and another is a relatively junior NISS officer.

Sadiq al-Mahdi is, however, also a religious leader revered by followers in his Ansar al-Islam movement, a key component of Umma.

NISS detained him after he reportedly accused the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces of rape and other abuses of civilians in Sudan's Darfur region.

Although Umma initially had been a key target of Bashir's national dialogue and participated in preliminary meetings, it pulled out with his arrest.

In July, Bashir told other political parties that "the atmosphere of freedoms ... within the national dialogue is guaranteed and represents an irrevocable national, ethical and political commitment," the official SUNA news agency reported at the time.

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