The government of Sudan and South Sudan rebel group SPLM pledged in writing to the UN Security Council last month that they would sign a final peace agreement by December 31, when a temporary ceasefire was due to expire.
Today, within hours of the year-end deadline agreed with the U.N., two protocols were signed by middle-ranking officials of the government and the SPLM.
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.
One protocol is a permanent cease-fire. The permanent truce will come into force some 72 hours after the cease-fire deal was signed, said Sayed El-Khatib, spokesman for the government delegation at the peace talks.
South African President Thabo Mbeki was in the Kenyan town of Naivasha to witness the ceremony along with his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir.
Mediators said a ceremony had tentatively been set for January 9 in Nairobi where both principal negotiators -- SPLM leader John Garang and Sudanese First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha -- are due to sign the eight deals agreed by junior colleagues in two years of talks. 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.
Two million people have died and four million people have been displaced since the war broke out in 1983, when rebels in the Christian and animist south demanded autonomy from the Muslim north.
The accords do not include Darfur in western Sudan. "The agreement that is being signed today is partial agreement," SLA chairman told Reuters by telephone from Darfur. "We in the SLA inform the government and SPLM clearly that this may be a step but is in no way a solution to the problem of Sudan."
Sudan, which on Saturday celebrates its 1956 freedom from Britain, has been embroiled in a series of civil wars for most of its independence.
QUOTATIONS OF THE DAY
"The peace deal is the beginning of real independence from Sudan," said Qamar Hasan al-Taher, a member of the SPLM.
"The war in the south is over," Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. "Our happiness will not be complete unless we solve the problem of Darfur," Bashir added.
In a statement issued by his spokesman, Mr. Kofi Annan said he looks forward to the official signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, ushering in "a new era of peace" in the Sudan, in which the U.N. is prepared to play a significant role.
Violence forces more charities to pull back from 'too dangerous' Darfur: The aid agencies are wary of criticising the Sudanese government in public, but a senior official said: "We are going to continue to see the humanitarian organisations drawing back. It is simply too dangerous. This means that the Sudanese government is effectively winning in its campaign to keep independent observers out of Darfur. It'll also be even more of a humanitarian disaster than it is now. It is astonishing the outside world does not realise this.
New group mounts pressure on Garang: It’s emerging that radicals in and outside the movement are bent on putting up new demands that could pose a litmus test to Dr John Garang’s grip in the south during the six-year interim period. A section of southern intelligentsia are saying absence of armed conflict in the south won’t herald the beginning of peace as long as freedom fighters-both in and outside the country are not fully involved in the system. "If the southern Sudanese are not careful, the next strife in this country may emanate from southern Sudan, and between the southerners themselves," warned Lako.