- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Sudan signed on Sunday a historic peace agreement that ends 21 years of conflict that claimed about 2 million lives and made refugees of 4 million. Yet the country is still at war. Just as a peace deal between the government in Khartoum and rebels to the south came within reach, another conflict with rebels to the west in Darfur broke out. That conflict still rages and escalates today. It is difficult, therefore, to be wholly jubilant about the peace deal with the south, but there are reasons to salute the breakthrough.

The conflict between Khartoum and southern rebels involved religious differences, dueling claims to oil resources and age-old animosities. The fact that a deal was reached reflects the determination of both sides and indicates that the most intractable of crises can sometimes be resolved.

The peace agreement also comes as good news to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who exploited the kind of patience needed to bring warring sides to a deal. The imminence of a final breakthrough with the south had been talked about for well over a year, and Mr. Powell witnessed the signing of the agreement in Nairobi, Kenya.

With the unwavering attention of Mr. Powell and others, the southern Sudanese were able to pen a deal that can only be characterized as broad and reasonably generous — that is, if Khartoum in practice upholds it. Under the deal, the Sudanese people will be getting a new government, a new constitution and new army. The south will keep half of the oil wealth generated in its territory, with the other half sent to Khartoum. Islamic law will be applied only in the north. A power-sharing transitional government will be established, with John Garang, leader of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), to be sworn in as vice president within months. A new constitution is to be completed in two months, new elections are slated to be held in about four years, and in six years the south will hold a binding referendum on whether it wants to secede. Three new security units will be formed, with rebels from the south and government forces forming independent groups, and those parties also merging together into joint corps.

The future of Sudan now will depend not only on Khartoum, but also on Mr. Garang, who must work to address other marginalized groups in Sudan and serve more than his southern constituency. The Darfur crisis, which is becoming more fractionalized, threatens the entire country and the grievances of the eastern Sudanese must be addressed soon to head off another crisis. Khartoum, meanwhile, must govern in keeping with the spirit and tenets of the peace deal.

The international community must actively continue its involvement in Sudan. The south, which has been ravaged by war, needs funds to rebuild and troops to monitor the cease fire. There are many reasons to be wary of an enduring peace in Sudan, but the latest agreement gives signs of hope.

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