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Sudan, eastern rebels sign peace deal

Oct 14, 2006 (ASMARA) — Eastern rebels and the government of Sudan signed an agreement on Saturday to end a decade of low-level revolt in a region rich in natural resources but beset by poverty.

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Musa Mohamed Ahmed

The agreement was signed in the Eritrean capital Asmara by Sudanese presidential advisor Mustafa Osman Ismail and the head of the rebel Eastern Front delegation Musa Mohammed Ahmed.

Ismail called the deal "a new dawn" and a "road map to stability and development in the east".

Ahmed said: "Our priorities will be rebuilding the east in complete transparency."

The agreement, which sparked singing and dancing after it was signed, is the third peace deal Khartoum has negotiated in less then two years. If fully implemented it will stabilise one of Sudan’s most important areas economically.

Sudan’s east hosts its largest gold mine, diamond resources and its only port, Port Sudan, where its main oil pipelines feed exports to the outside world. But it is also a deeply impoverished region.

"Eastern Sudan is the most marginalized area in Sudan and by signing this agreement there is admission and recognition of this fact," said Yasir Arman of the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which concluded a north-south peace deal with the government in January 2005.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who led the high-level delegation to neighbouring Eritrea which mediated the pact, pledged his government’s support.

"We are totally committed to implement this according to the letter and the spirit of the agreement," he told an opening ceremony.

NEGLECT

The Eastern Front rebels are comprised of the non-Arab Beja and the pure Arab Rashaidiya tribes. They took up arms complaining Khartoum exploited their natural resources without developing the region.

During about a decade of low-scale conflict, eastern rebels allied themselves with former southern rebels and those from Darfur. But after insurgents elsewhere in the country signed peace deals to join the central government, the eastern rebels found themselves in a weaker negotiating position.

The coalition government formed last year with the SPLM paved the way for eastern talks after numerous false starts.

Amna Dirar, the secretary-general of the main eastern political party, the Beja Congress, said the agreement signed on Saturday includes positions in the government.

The power-sharing deal gives the Eastern Front one junior minister in Khartoum, assistant to the president and an advisor to the president, Dirar said. It also gets eight parliamentary seats in Khartoum and 10 parliamentary seats in each of the three eastern states, among other posts.

The SPLM’s Arman cautioned, however: "What is more important is the implementation of the agreement not just signing it."

Implementation of the north-south deal has been slow. And the peace accord signed in May for Darfur in Sudan’s west has so far failed to end the fighting.

Ahmed Hamid Birki, head of the Rashaidiya tribe, said the people in eastern Sudan are ready the dividends of peace. "The first thing, God willing, that they will do is lift the state of emergency and open the borders with Eritrea for trade," he said.

The deal will likely strengthen Eritrean-Sudanese relations, which have been strained as Asmara has hosted both southern and Darfur rebels and Sudanese opposition politicians.

Sudan accused Asmara of arming and training Sudanese rebels, a charge Eritrea denies.

(Reuters)