NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 25, 2003 (AP) — The Sudanese government and the main rebel group fighting a 20-year civil war overcame a major stumbling block to end the conflict by signing an agreement Thursday on security arrangements for a six-year transition period.
The agreement will allow the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA, to retain its forces in southern Sudan — the main area of fighting — while government and rebel forces will be ``integrated’’ in the capital, Khartoum, and three conflict areas in central Sudan.
Details of the command structure have yet to be worked out, said Lazaro Sumbeiywo, former Kenyan army commander and chief mediator at the talks, which are being held in the Kenyan town of Naivasha.
``There is no doubt the issue of security has been a difficult one,’’ Sumbeiywo said in a statement after Sudanese government and SPLA representatives signed the agreement. ``Your persistence in the matter ... was a clear demonstration that you have both decided to put the interests of your country, the Sudan, before your own interests and that you are determined to realize a just and durable peace.’’
The agreement was reached after three weeks of unprecedented talks between Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha and SPLA leader John Garang.
Under the agreement, the rebels will also withdraw their forces from eastern Sudan, while the government will reduce the number of its forces in southern Sudan.
More than 2 million people have died in the conflict, mainly through war-induced famine and disease, since it erupted in 1983 after southern rebels took up arms against the predominantly Arab and Muslim northern government in a bid to obtain greater autonomy for the largely animist and Christian south.
The talks between Taha and Garang began Sept. 4, after the latest peace process to end the conflict stalled because of disagreements over key issues like security arrangements and power-sharing.
In July 2002, shortly after the peace talks began, the government and the SPLA reached a deal known as the Machakos Protocol, under which the government accepted the right of southerners to self-determination through a referendum after six years. The rebels in turn accepted the maintenance of Islamic or sharia law in the north. But since then, progress in the peace process had been halting.
The process is being mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, a regional authority, although Taha and Garang are said to be carrying out most of the discussions on a one-to-one basis.
The talks will continue in order to resolve other outstanding issues on power and wealth sharing that have prevented the parties reaching a comprehensive peace agreement.