Sudan's Bashir approves SPLM cabinet reshuffle

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KHARTOUM, Oct 17 (Reuters) Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has approved a cabinet reshuffle, one demand of former southern rebels who withdrew from a coalition government last week triggering the country's worst political crisis in years.

The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) last week froze participation in Sudan's coalition government complaining it was being sidelined and that key elements of a January 2005 peace deal were being ignored.

Bashir's decision to approve the cabinet reshuffle, which had been delayed for three months, followed his first meeting yesterday with SPLM officials since the crisis began.

''The president issued a decree to reshuffle the cabinet and the reshuffle included two presidential advisors, six ministerial posts and six ministers of state in the national government,'' said Presidential Spokesman Mahjoub Fadul.

He said other issues raised in the letter delivered to Bashir by the SPLM yesterday would be discussed with SPLM Chairman Salva Kiir, who is also Sudan's first vice president.

SPLM Information Minister Samson Kwaje told Reuters earlier after the cabinet reshuffle that his group would rejoin the government to try to work to resolve outstanding issues.

But he later clarified his statement to say participation in the government is ''not automatic'' and would depend upon Kiir's meeting with Bashir tomorrow.

Calling the reshuffle a positive step, Kwaje said: ''There are other contentious issues ... it is not automatic that the ministers will return to work ... the meeting tomorrow is very crucial, if not resolving this issue, then at least to find a way forward to resolve it''.

Another SPLM official said: ''Until Salva is satisfied with the outcome of the meeting with Bashir ... the one who is going to decide about resuming work or not is Salva.'' Among those affected by the reshuffle is former SPLM Foreign Minister Lam Akol who will become the minister of cabinet affairs. Many speculated Akol had displeased the SPLM by at times following too closely the line of their former foes, the National Congress Party.

His removal from the powerful Foreign Ministry, observers said, was key to the reshuffle.

SPLM officials said the ministers approved by Bashir were not the ones Kiir wanted and the president should have waited until he met Kiir to make an announcement.

The SPLM decision to withdraw from the coalition government formed by the 2005 peace agreement was seen as the biggest challenge to date to the landmark deal which ended Africa's longest civil conflict.

The SPLM called it a ''wake-up call'' for their former foes, the National Congress Party, to encourage them to move on and implement the deal.

''I think it will happen, they've learnt a good lesson,'' Kwaje said.

Sudan's north-south war claimed 2 million lives and drove 4 million from their homes. It largely pitted Khartoum's Islamist government against mostly Christian animist rebels.

Yesterday SPLM Deputy Secretary-General Yasir Arman and Deputy Chairman Riek Machar said outstanding problems included the redeployment of northern troops from southern oil fields, resolving the status of the oil-rich Abyei region and constitutional violations such as political prisoners and encroaching on press freedoms.

REUTERS PD RAI1820

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