|ARMING THE MILITIAS||WRANGLE
OVER "PRIVATE ARMIES"
In 1986, an elected government headed by Umma Party leader Sadiq al-Mahdi took power. As Prime Minister of a series of coalitions, Sadiq allowed Fadlalla Burma Nasser to continue as Minister of State for Defence and develop the policy of arming sections of the Baggara.
Umma Party representatives strongly defended the militia policy, and in February 1989 - with support from the National Islamic Front - initiated legislation to establish a "Popular Defence Force" within which the tribal militias would have legal status. There were bitter complaints from other political parties and from the armed forces, who saw their role being undercut by the measure.
The Army responded by issuing a memorandum - in effect an ultimatum - which among other things forced the Prime Minister to back away from the legislation and assemble a new governing coalition which resisted what it saw as the formation of private armies. The coalition included the Umma and the Democratic Unionist Party (which had left the coalition in December 1988), Southern Sudanese parties, representatives of the trade unions, the Communist Party and the Sudan National Party. Tentative moves were made towards peace talks with the SPLA.
The National Islamic Front - led by Dr Hassan al-Turabi, Sadiq al-Mahdi's
brother-in-law - was excluded, only to seize power in a military coup five