- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

NAIROBI, Kenya — Under a blazing African sky, Sudan’s warring factions yesterday signed a peace agreement ending two decades of civil war and set the groundwork for a deal to end the violence in the country’s Darfur region as well.

The long and colorful ceremony, held in the Kenyan capital’s biggest soccer stadium, featured tribal dance troupes, school choirs, uniformed brass bands playing “Auld Lang Syne” and a host of dignitaries from Africa, Europe and the United States.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir hailed the signing ceremony as a “day of peace” and said, “What was spent on fighting will now be spent on health, education and other services.”

But many difficult issues remain for the Islamic government in Khartoum and southern Sudanese rebels, who long have resented the north’s near-monopoly on power, government jobs and tax revenues.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, completing what could be his last trip as the top U.S. diplomat, also praised the accord but said the pressure was now on a new unity government to deal with Darfur.

Arab militias have attacked black African villages in the western Darfur region, committing numerous atrocities and killing an estimated 70,000 people in a bid to quash a rebellion there. Mr. Powell has labeled the campaign “genocide.”

“The United States and the world community expect the new partners to use all necessary means to stop the violence,” he said. “And we expect to see rapid negotiation of the crisis in Darfur.”

U.S. human rights and Christian conservative groups also have pressured the U.S. government to act to protect southern rebel groups, who are Christian or follow traditional African religions.

Some have argued that the end of the north-south war could leave Khartoum even less willing to compromise in Darfur.

But Elzahawi Malik, former Sudanese information minister, said stalled talks between Khartoum and the Darfur rebels would receive a boost from the peace deal.

“They are just waiting to see what we do here,” Mr. Malik said. “If we get a real settlement here, I think the good will benefits all of Sudan.”

The crowd in the half-full stadium was heavily tilted toward the southern rebels, cheering loudly at every mention of John Garang, who commanded the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) throughout the 20-year civil war that has taken an estimated 2 million lives.

Mr. Garang is to become first vice president in the unity government, but he said during the weekend that he will remain in the south with his forces while a new constitution is drafted.

Many Sudanese fled to Kenya during the fighting, often living in refugee camps. About 10,000 Sudanese refugees live in Nairobi.

Religious tension continues and was on display when the stadium’s public address system would proclaim “Allahu akbar” — “God is great” in Arabic — and many in the crowd responded with “Alleluia.” But many said they were ready to forget the years of bloodshed if the deal allows them to return home.

Aleer Apam, 37, lost his left leg to a government mine in 1987, when he was a fighter with the SPLA. As he watched the festivities yesterday, he said he welcomed peace and a chance to return home.

“If I lost a leg, but there is no more fighting, it is no problem,” he said. “So many of my friends lost their lives. A leg is not so important.”

Key points in the agreement include the formation of a 39,000-strong national army melding government troops and forces from the SPLA; a sharing of oil revenues and key government posts; and six years of autonomy for the south followed by a referendum on independence for the region.

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