Sudan, southern rebels end 21-year war
Bare-chested warriors danced and turbaned heads bowed in prayer when Sudan's Islamist government and southern rebels sealed a comprehensive peace agreement on Sunday ending Africa's longest-running civil war.
Sudan's First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and rebel leader John Garang signed the accord in Kenya's capital Nairobi, ending a 21-year conflict in the south that has killed an estimated 2 million people mainly by famine and disease.
At the signing ceremony in a Nairobi sports stadium, bare-chested Dinka warriors wearing leopardskin loincloths and white paint on their faces danced for thousands of banner-waving exiles and refugees who planned now to return home.
"If I had wings I would be flying," said Grace Datiro, 35, a southerner who has lived in Kenya for 14 years since war drove her from her home in Sudan's Equatoria region.
In a statement released by the White House, US President Bush hailed the agreement as a "positive movement toward peace" and urged Sudan to also pursue peace in the troubled Darfur region.
"This comprehensive peace agreement should serve as an inspiration and model for both sides in their work toward negotiating a peaceful resolution of the Darfur conflict," Bush said.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell, attending the signing, urged Khartoum and the southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) to work together immediately to end atrocities in Darfur. He said Washington would upgrade its ties with Sudan to a positive relationship only when that was done.
He said the violence that prompted Washington to declare last year that genocide was occurring in Darfur was continuing, although he awaited the findings of a U.N. commission that will report on Jan. 25.
RETURN OF REFUGEES
Washington has a special interest in Sudan, which it lists as a state sponsor of terrorism because of Khartoum's record of hosting militant Islamists including Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s, and maintains a range of economic curbs against it.
The U.N. Security Council -- meeting in Nairobi, away from its New York home for the first time in 14 years -- unanimously adopted a resolution in November promising political and substantial economic support once Sudan ended both wars.
The new agreement is expected to trigger the return of more than half a million Sudanese who fled to nearby countries and the gradual resettlement of 4 million displaced internally.
HOPE FOR PEACE
"What was spent on fighting will now be spent on health, education and other services," said President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, whose government earns $4 billion a year from oil.
In front of 12 African heads of state or government and Powell, SPLM chairman Garang and Taha put their names to protocols signed by colleagues in two years of talks. The deals together form an overall accord including a permanent cease-fire.
Under the agreement, the ruling National Congress party and the SPLM will form an interim coalition government, decentralize power, share oil revenues and integrate the military. At the end of a six-year interim period, the south can vote for secession.
"There will be no more bombs falling from the sky on innocent women and children. Instead of the cries of children and the wailing of women, peace will bless us once more," said Garang, adding that other southern opposition groups would be welcome to join a new SPLM-led southern regional government.
Diplomats predicted increased pressure on Khartoum toward a comprehensive resolution of all the country's conflicts, which have expanded over the years to include unrest in the east.
Analysts say the conflicts share roots in the domination of post-independence politics by a small Arab elite with its home base north of Khartoum, to the detriment of fringe provinces.
In the south, rebels have been fighting the government since 1983, when Khartoum tried to impose Islamic law on the entire country. Oil, ethnicity and ideology complicated the conflict.
Violence also has erupted in Darfur, where a revolt began in February 2003 after years of tribal conflict over scarce resources. Those rebels accuse the government of neglect and of using Arab militias to loot and burn non-Arab villages.
In the Libyan capital Tripoli, Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur, chairman of the Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, told Reuters he welcomed the agreement but said there should be a comprehensive peace for all of Sudan and not just the south.