Thu, Jan 13, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Peace is just the beginning

Although there were scenes of overwhelming joy at the ceremony at which Sudanese officials and rebels inked a peace accord, it will be difficult to end decades of mutual distrust immediately

DPA , Nairobi


Amid dancing and singing, Sudan's former adversaries sat down together on Sunday to sign piles of thick documents outlining how peace will be brought to southern Sudan.

Southern Sudanese, some in T-shirts with the Sudanese flag, others clad in tribal attire, looked on as Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and southern rebel leader John Garang signed the accords.

The signing officially brings an end to the longest-running war in Africa. Apart from a relatively peaceful period between 1972 and 1983, the southern Sudanese have seen nothing but war since the country's independence from Britain in 1956.

About 2 million people are estimated to have died as a result of the war, and 4 million people have been forced from their homes.

Garang, soon to be made vice-president in a power-sharing interim government, told reporters before the signing ceremony that it was a highly emotional moment for himself and for the Sudanese people.

He said that on New Year's Eve, when the last partial agreements, including a permanent ceasefire were signed, it was 42 years since he went into the bush to join the rebels he was eventually to lead.

During Sunday's signing ceremony, surrounded by presidents and other dignitaries, Garang, normally chatty and quick to make jokes, seemed taken by the gravity of the moment.

The leaders speaking during the ceremony underlined that the work to bring real peace to Sudan is not over. In fact, it is just beginning.

"It may be the end of war but it is only the beginning of peace," in the words of US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"It is good to have an agreement on paper ... but there must be some tangible results to follow it," said Samson Kwaje, a rebel spokesman.

"The signing marks the beginning of a long and challenging road ahead. Both parties will continue to face many trials," said Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, whose government has made a name for itself as a regional peace broker, supplying the top mediators for both the Sudanese and Somali peace talks.

The next step will be the drafting of an interim constitution, to be ready in the next weeks, and the subsequent formation of a power-sharing government.

In July, a six year interim period will start, during which southern Sudan will be autonomous. At the end of six years, a referendum on southern independence will be held.

But although there were scenes of overwhelming joy at Sunday's ceremony, it will be difficult to immediately end decades of mutual distrust.

"I am very happy. The war was going on for so long. But I am not confident that peace will be recognized by the Arabs [in government].

"We will have final peace only when we are separated," said John Mangok, a rebel military official from southern Sudan.

The peace agreement does not cover the more recent and more publicised conflict in the western Darfur region, where 70,000 people are believed to have died and 1.6 million forced from their homes since the conflict broke out nearly two years ago.

Powell, whose government said genocide has been taking place in Darfur, said on the eve of the signing that "great efforts" needed to be done in order to end the conflict in Darfur, and on Sunday he urged the "new partners in peace" to act immediately to end the violence and atrocities there.

It is has been generally hoped that a peace deal for the south will serve as a blueprint for the west, but some observers say that the goodwill earned by the government by signing the peace deal for the south may make it hard to pressure it on making peace in Darfur.

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