NAIVASHA, Kenya, Sept 25 (AFP) — The main rebel group in Sudan and the Khartoum government on Thursday signed an agreement on security issues, seen as a key step in reaching a comprehensive accord to end Africa’s longest war, an AFP correspondent reported.
The deal on the position and strength of the government’s armed forces and those of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) was reached on Wednesday after three weeks of talks between Sudan’s Vice President, Ali Osman Taha, and SPLA leader John Garang.
"This is a historic occasion ... It has paved the way for a comprehensive peace agreement," said Taha after exchanging the signed text of the agreement with Garang.
Commented Garang: "We will go into this agreement with resolve, energy and focus so that we resolve the remaining issues."
"With this agreement, the direction and orientation for peace in Sudan is irreversible," added Garang.
The head of the government delegation to the peace talks, Idris Mohamed Abdelgadir, signed the document, while the deputy chief of the SPLA negotiating team, Pagan Amum, signed for the rebel side.
Sudan’s north-south civil war dates back to the 19th century and beyond. Its latest phase began when the SPLA took up arms in 1983. Since then, more than 1.5 million people have been killed and four million displaced.
The conflict takes place against a background of domination of the mainly black African, animist or Christian south by the Arab, Islamic north, but has become increasingly driven by a fight for control of natural resources, notably oil.
On Sunday, both delegations, meeting in Naivasha, 80 kilometres (50 miles), northwest of Nairobi, agreed to extend their ceasefire by two months beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of September.
Negotiations on other contentious issues holding up a peace pact are expected to continue under the aegis of the east African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is mediating in the conflict.
Questions of power- and wealth-sharing and of the status of three regions in the centre of the country are still on the negotiating table.