Sudan's vice president and the country's main rebel leader signed a comprehensive peace agreement to end Africa's longest-running conflict yesterday, concluding an eight-year process to stop a civil war that has cost more than 2 million lives since 1983.
In a lavish ceremony in neigh-boring Kenya -- where the talks were based -- Sudanese Vice Pres-ident Ali Osman Mohammed Taha and John Garang, chairman of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, signed the peace agreement.
The north-south war has pit-ted 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.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed as witnesses. US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Italy's Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini and Norwegian International Development Minister Hilde Johnson then signed as witnesses, representing donors who've backed the peace negotiations.
Kenya has hosted the talks since they began in earnest in 1997 and Museveni is the current chairman of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional grouping that has mediated the talks.
The deal "will close a dark chapter in the history of Sudan ... This is a promising day for the people of Sudan, but only if to-day's promises are kept,'' Powell said.
Nine other African leaders attended the ceremony, including Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir and African Union Chairman and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. Arab League Secretary General Amre Moussa was also present.
During the last two years of talks, the adversaries have signed protocols on how to share power and natural wealth, what to do with their armed forces during a six-year transition period and how to administer three disputed areas in central Sudan.
They also agreed that after the six-year transition, southerners would vote in a referendum on whether to remain united with the north, or to become independent.
UN 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 the ceasefire 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.
For the Sudanese government and the rebels, the next step after signing the peace deal will be for the parliament in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and the rebel parliament to ratify the agreement within two weeks.
After that, negotiators will work on an interim national constitution.
Joseph Lange, 58, from the village of Aweng in southern Sudan said that he feels while the agreement is not perfect, it's definitely worth trying.
"In terms of wealth sharing, we share the wealth of the south, but the north doesn't share. But we've been at war for a long time so it's worth trying something new," Lange said at Nairobi's Nyayo National Stadium ahead of the opening ceremony.