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Sudan gropes to form transitional government

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``Under the previous regime, Nimeiry tended to pursue a policy of confrontation,'' says Muhammad Ahmed Taisier, a trade union representative and a lecturer in economic development at the University of Khartoum.

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``Indications of our foreign policy are that it is going to be a rational one instead of the irrationality and inconsistency of the one that existed under Nimeiry. Nimeiry's foreign policy was directed toward his own self-survival.''

Given Sudan's economic problems, which include a foreign debt of more than $9 billion, many here realize that it is in the country's interests for the United States and western Europe to continue their assistance.

``On the whole, I think Sudan will seek to maintain its traditional trading and donor partners,'' a European diplomat says.

Sudanese have also stressed that much will depend on outside attitudes:

``In the past, the United States often failed to heed our cultural and political identity, but were more concerned with regional strategy. The Europeans, in contrast, have been far more sensitive, and I believe that this will be reflected in our future policy,'' says Sadiq Mahdi, a respected leader of the Umma party, one of Sudan's two main political organizations.

Mr. Mahdi, a politician who did not compromise himself with Nimeiry as did so many other politicians, is often touted as a possible prime minister for a future post in the transitional government.

There appears to be a remarkable sense of determination and consensus among the Sudanese to lift the country out of its economic doldrums and put it back on the road to democracy. But it is a job cynical observers describe as an ``impossible task.''

Overall, there appears to be little dramatic change in Sudan's position toward the West. The new leadership may adopt a more nonaligned posture, notably with regard toward superpower issues fostering, in turn, possibly better relations with other Arab and African countries including Libya and Ethiopia.

At present, the US is furnishing Sudan with some $400 million in aid of which $45 million is military. According to State Department figures, US aid is also directed toward providing food for 6 million Sudanese.

At the same time, the International Monetary Fund, Saudi Arabia, the European Economic Community, and other contributers are also helping Sudan with substantial assistance.

Although Sudan has had a bit of a rapprochement with Libya and Ethiopia, most sources feel that it should not be seen as a signal for the two nations to start exerting influence over Sudan.

Historically, the sources point out, Sudan always maintained good relations with both and was considered a bridge between Africa and the Arab world. When dealing with these two countries, Nimeiry had a tendency to cry wolf.

Nevertheless, some foreign relief organizations have expressed fears that an accommodation with Ethiopia might affect the status of the hundreds of thousands of Tigrean and Eritrean refugees who have fled or are fleeing to Sudan.