KHARTOUM, Sept 27 (AFP) — Tens of thousands of Sudanese turned out Saturday to give Vice President Ali Osman Taha a hero’s welcome on his return from Kenya after concluding a landmark security agreement with southern rebels.
The deal, signed on Thursday between rebel leader John Garang and Khartoum has been heralded as a key step towards a full peace accord to end the country’s 20-year civil war.
It was reached after three weeks of Kenyan-mediated talks and welcomed by the United States as an "historic" accord that should boost efforts for permanent settlement.
In a speech to about 30,000 people at Khartoum airport, Taha said his government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) had laid the groundwork for a peace that would benefit all Sudanese people.
"We have laid down the foundation stone of an edifice of peace which will safeguard the rights of all people and will open up avenues for development, construction and stability," he said.
He told the crowd, some holding aloft anti-war banners, that the agreement "has put an end to the war for good and animosity and the satan of war will never infiltrate our ranks."
"The power-sharing will not be a question of distributing positions as political bribes," said Taha, who appeared exhausted by three weeks of tough talks, the heat and the large throng of people who waited hours to greet him.
Reporting from New York, the independent Al Rai Al Aam daily said Washington has agreed to lift US sanctions on Khartoum and remove Sudan’s name from the list of nations sponsoring terror in the wake of the accord.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday phoned President Omar al-Beshir to congratulate him on the deal and affirm American commitments to speeding up the conclusion of a final peace ageement, the paper said.
"Lifting the sanctions and taking the Sudan’s name from the list of terrorism have been agreed upon and what remains now is the timing of making those steps," it quoted Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail as saying.
Sudan’s civil war erupted in 1983 when the SPLA took up arms to end domination of the mainly Christian and animist south by the Muslim north. More than 1.5 million people have been killed and four million others displaced by the fighting.