Sudanese government, southern rebels sign permanent cease-fire, protocols for peace agreement

Dec. 31 (AP)

Sudanese government and rebel officials signed a permanent cease-fire deal Friday and endorsed details on how to implement their peace plan to end a 21-year civil war in southern Sudan, a conflict blamed for 2 million deaths.

In Khartoum, thousands of southern Sudanese took to the streets, singing through loudspeakers and waving the rebels' green, black, red, white and blue flag with a golden star, which appeared for the first time on the streets of Sudan's tightly controlled capital.

"The peace deal is the beginning of real independence from Sudan," said Qamar Hasan al-Taher, a member of the main southern rebel group Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

The permanent truce in Africa's longest running conflict will come into force some 72 hours after the cease-fire deal was signed in Kenya's lakeside town of Naivasha, said Sayed El-Khatib, spokesman for the government delegation at the peace talks.

The accord clears the way for the warring sides to sign a comprehensive peace deal in early January in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. The final peace deal calls for power sharing during a six-year transition period, after which the south will hold a referendum on whether to remain part of Sudan.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the agreements on Friday.

"He looks forward to the official signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, ushering in a new era of peace in Sudan, in which the United Nations is prepared to play a significant role," Annan's spokesman said.

United Nations and U.S. officials hope a solution to the civil war in the south will spur an end to the separate conflict between government-backed forces and rebels in the western Darfur region, where disease and hunger have killed 70,000 since March. Nearly 2 million are believed to have fled their homes since the start of the Darfur crisis.

Sudan's two-decade civil war pitted the Khartoum government, led by Arab Muslims who dominated the north, against rebels made up mainly of Christians and animists, who are the majority in the south. The conflict is blamed for more than 2 million deaths, primarily from war-induced famine and disease.

The newly signed agreements detail how to implement protocols worked out during two years of negotiations. The protocols cover how to share power and natural resources, including oil; what to do with their armed forces during a six-year transition period; and how to administer three disputed areas in central Sudan.

The protocols were signed during previous rounds of talks, but the warring sides still had to spell out how the deals would be executed, the government agencies that will be responsible for implementation and the source of funds.

Sudanese government and rebel officials wanted all these issues to be worked out in the peace deal to prevent any side from stalling implementation.

"We now have all the components that will form the comprehensive Sudan peace agreement," chief mediator Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo said. "Every topic on our agenda has been discussed and agreed on."

Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir, South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki and Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori observed the signing of the last main protocols.

Sudan, which on Saturday celebrates its 1956 freedom from Britain, has been embroiled in a series of civil wars for most of its independence.