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Wednesday, June 30, 1999 Published at 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK

World: Africa

Bashir calls for peace with enemies

President Bashir called peace 'the strategic option'

By Barbara Plett in Khartoum

The Sudanese government is celebrating a decade in power by launching oil exports and calling for peace with its enemies.

In a speech marking the occasion, President Omar al Bashir urged armed opposition groups to return from exile and share in the country's development.

After seizing power in a military coup in June 1989, the Islamist authorities acquired a reputation for suppressing dissent and sponsoring terrorism, but they have been working to improve their image.

Revolutionary achievements

Guests in the garden of the Presidential Palace were treated to traditional dances and displays of fireworks before President Bashir delivered the anniversary speech.

[ image: New pipeline and pumping facilities permit Sudan's first oil exports]
New pipeline and pumping facilities permit Sudan's first oil exports
He listed what he said were the achievements of the revolution, including a constitution that has recently returned the country to multiparty politics after 10 years of military rule.

General Bashir said the government would go to any lengths to reconcile with armed opposition groups and said he accepted their call for an all-party peace conference.

The political reform is part of the government's plan to shed the image it acquired soon after seizing power as a group of army-backed extremists with a militant Islamic agenda.

A $1.4 billion oil project set to begin exports in July is also meant to improve Sudan's investment profile and boost the country's struggling economy.

Opposition concern

But Sudanese opposition groups say the political changes have not loosened the government's grip on power.

They also worry that any oil money will be used to strengthen Khartoum's hand in the country's civil war, which is fought mostly by African rebels in the south against the Arab authorities in the north.

The government has stepped up efforts to reconcile with dissident Arab politicians who are allied with the southern rebels.

Observers say this may bring powerful parties back to Khartoum, but it probably will not stop the war in the south.

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