Home | News    Sunday 9 January 2005

Sudan’s VP and rebel leader sign comprehensive peace agreement

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By CHRIS TOMLINSON, Associated Press Writer

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 9, 2005 (AP) — Sudan’s vice president and the country’s main rebel leader signed a comprehensive peace agreement to end Africa’s longest-running conflict Sunday, concluding an eight-year process to stop a civil war in the south that has cost more than 2 million lives since 1983.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell signs the Sudan Peace agreement as a witness, as Sudan’s Vice President, Ali Osman Taha, left, and Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, right, wait, at Nyayo Stadium Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2005. Sudan’s vice president and the country’s main rebel leader signed a comprehensive peace agreement to end Africa’s longest-running conflict Sunday, concluding an eight-year process to stop a civil war that has cost more than 2 million lives since 1983. (AP)..

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who signed on as a witness, said the deal "will close a dark chapter in the history of Sudan" but only if the parties follow through in implementing it.

"This is a promising day for the people of Sudan, but only if today’s promises are kept," Powell said after the lavish signing ceremony in Kenya — where the talks were based.

About 2,000 spectators gathered at a stadium to watch Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha and John Garang, chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, endorse the deal, which still needs to be ratified by the Sudanese parliament and the rebels.

Powell also put all parties in the Sudan peace process on notice that the United States expects immediate progress on the crisis in the western region of Darfur and said the future of good relations between the countries depends on ending the violence.

The north-south war has pitted Sudan’s Islamic-dominated government against rebels seeking greater autonomy and a greater share of the country’s wealth for the largely animist south. The conflict is blamed for more than 2 million deaths, primarily from war-induced famine and disease.

The hard-won southern deal has raised hopes for a solution to the conflict in Darfur, where tens of thousands of villagers have died since non-Arab rebels rose up in February 2003 against Sudan’s Arab-dominated government and pro-government Arab tribal militia, known as Janjaweed.

"These new ’partners for peace’ must work together immediately to end the violence and the atrocities that continue to occur in Darfur," Powell said. "Not next month or in the interim period but right away, starting today."

The United States and other countries "expect the new partners to use all necessary means to stop the violence, and we expect to see rapid negotiation to resolve the crisis in Darfur," he said.

The United States looks forward to good relations with the new, unified Sudan government formed out of the peace deal, Powell said, but warned that "achieving this positive relationship will only be posible in the context of peace throughout the country."

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, whose country has hosted the talks since they began in earnest in 1997, and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni also signed the southern peace deal as witnesses, along with Italian and Norwegian diplomats. Nine other African leaders attended the ceremony.

"Our people have experienced the bitterness of war ... Peace is indeed going to bring our country abundance," Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir said.

The Sudanese head of state also promised to expediate peace talks on the separate conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.

"We are going to work together with our peace partners ... to ensure peace prevails in very part of the country," he said.

U.N. officials have said the Security Council will review the peace agreement within two weeks, after which the council will adopt a resolution establishing a peace support mission for Sudan.

The mission’s key tasks will be to monitor a permanent cease-fire that came into effect on Jan. 3 and protect its observers, as well as help the government and rebels reduce their forces and move them to designated areas as agreed to in the protocols.

The pact spells out how to share power and natural wealth, what to do with the armed forces during a six-year transition period and how to administer three disputed areas in central Sudan. After six years of autonomy, southerners can decide in a referendum whether to remain part of Sudan, or become independent.

After ratification, which must come in two weeks, negotiators will work on an interim national constitution that will allow the peace agreement to be implemented.

Garang said Saturday that he will immediately start trying to persuade other southern militias to accept the deal. The government also must persuade northern opposition groups to accept the deal.

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