JUBA, Sudan — A leading Sudanese opposition leader said on Thursday he would sign an accord with the ruling southern party ahead of a general election next April and also respect south Sudan's decision if it opts for independence in a 2011 referendum.
Sadeq al-Mahdi, a former prime minister and the head of the Umma party, was greeted by leaders from the south?s ruling Sudan People?s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party, including Vice President Riek Machar, on arrival at the southern capital on Thursday.
"We have come with a specific programme to discuss with the SPLM the terms for a just Sudan, that we believe will attract our citizens, our brothers and sisters in the south to support unity," Mahdi told reporters at Juba airport.
But he also said he would support the south if it chose independence.
"We are going to discuss the terms of co-existence, if our brothers and sisters in the south opt for independence, what will be the special, fraternal relationship between our two successor states," said Mahdi.
"It is going to be counter-productive in the national interest if we play politics with self-determination," he added, in apparent reference to the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in the north, which insists Sudan should stay united.
North and south Sudan fought a devastating decades-long civil war that ended with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
Under the deal, the south has a six-year transitional period of regional autonomy and is part of a unity government in Sudan until the referendum.
Political parties in Sudan are building alliances ahead of national elections in April to challenge the the NCP, which is led by President Omar al-Beshir.
The country's last general election in April 1986 saw victory for Mahdi, but his government was overthrown in the 1989 coup that brought Beshir to power.
Mahdi, who is on a four-day visit to the south, said there would be a "meeting of minds" on several issues, after which a "memorandum of understanding" would be signed.
This would follow a deal the Umma party signed in July with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) -- Darfur?s most active rebel group.
JEM and Umma both say they want to see peace across Sudan, including in the western war-torn region of Darfur, before next year's elections.
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