Sudan and southern rebels to sign peace agreement by the end of the year, says Sudanese president

Dec. 27 (AP)

Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir said Monday that his government and the country's main southern rebel group will sign a peace agreement by the end of the year to end more than 20 years of civil war.

"The final peace agreement will be signed during the remaining days of this year," el-Bashir told a summit meeting attended by Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia.

Gutbi el-Mahdi, a political adviser to President el-Bashir, told the official Sudan Media Center last week that the agreement would be signed Jan. 10 in the presidential palace in Nairobi. It was not clear if the signing date had been changed since el-Mahdi's statement.

El-Bashir said he hoped the summit meeting and the peace agreement with rebels would be "an example for achieving security and stability in the region."

Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh suggested that Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia join an alliance of countries at the summit that already includes Yemen, Ethiopia and Sudan. Djibouti and Somalia were officially observers, not members, of the summit.

The Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army had pledged to finalize an agreement to end the longest-running war in Africa by Dec. 31, making a commitment last month before the U.N. Security Council, which held a rare meeting in Nairobi to spur the peace talks.

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 Christian and animist south. The conflict is blamed for more than 2 million deaths, primarily from war-induced famine and disease.

U.N. and U.S. officials are hoping that a solution to the civil war -- which will include a new constitution and power-sharing government for Sudan -- will spur an end to the separate conflict between government-backed forces and rebels in the western Darfur region. Fighting in Darfur has killed 70,000 people and driven 1.8 million from their homes.