- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

KHARTOUM, Sudan — The Sudanese government and the country’s main southern rebel group will sign a peace agreement Jan. 10 in Kenya to end more than 20 years of civil war, a senior government official said yesterday.

The government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army had pledged to reach an agreement to end the longest-running war in Africa by Dec. 31 and made 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 more autonomy and a larger 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.

Gutbi el-Mahdi, political adviser to President Omar el-Bashir, told the official Sudan Media Center that the government and SPLA negotiators decided to continue talks over the Christmas and New Year holidays to resolve outstanding differences before the agreement is signed.

“The final signing for peace will be on Jan. 10 in the presidential palace in Nairobi,” Mr. el-Mahdi told the media center, adding that it would be a cause for public celebrations both in the north and the south of Sudan.

U.N. and U.S. officials said they hope 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.

An estimated 70,000 people have died in that conflict, which has driven 1.8 million from their homes since non-Arab rebel groups took up arms in February 2003 against what they saw as years of state neglect and discrimination against Sudanese of African origin.

The government responded with a counterinsurgency campaign in which the Janjaweed, an Arab militia, has committed wide-scale abuses against the African population. The United States has accused the Janjaweed of committing genocide, and the United Nations considers Darfur the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The top U.N. envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, told reporters at the United Nations on Dec. 14 that if a north-south agreement is reached and signed in early January, he envisions Security Council adoption of a resolution in the third week of January to authorize a wide-ranging U.N. peacekeeping and peace-building mission.

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