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SUDAN: Ceasefire agreed ahead of final southern peace deal

NAIROBI, 3 January 2005 (IRIN) - A permanent ceasefire agreement signed between the Sudanese government and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) on Friday spells out how a final peace accord between the two parties will be implemented, officials said.

"We signed two protocols on the implementation modalities and permanent ceasefire," SPLM/A spokesman Yasser Arman told IRIN from Naivasha, Kenya, where the peace talks have been held since September 2003. "The signing of the two protocols marks the end of the talks and negotiations."

"The mood is joyful," he added. "It is a historical moment that marks the end of marathon negotiations."

This was confirmed by Sudan's Vice President Ali Uthman Taha, who led the government delegation to the talks. "We pay tribute to the great people of Sudan by announcing that we have finished the assignment they gave us," he said.

The southern Sudan peace process started in 1994 when the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional grouping of six states, began mediating between the two parties.

Friday's accord is expected to be followed by the signing on 9 January of a final peace agreement in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki and his Sudanese counterpart Umar Hassan el-Bashir, were present at the signing of the two protocols.

Khartoum and the SPLM/A had pledged, in a memorandum initialled at an extraordinary session of the UN Security Council on 18-19 November in Nairobi, to reach a comprehensive peace agreement by 31 December.

In May, the two parties had signed six protocols on key issues, including power-sharing arrangements and the administration of the three contested areas during a six-year interim period that will precede a referendum to determine whether the south will remain part of Sudan.

"We promised the UN Security Council to sign an agreement before the end of the year and this is what we have done," SPLM/A leader John Garang, who headed the movement's delegation to the talks, told a group of elated southern Sudanese resident in Kenya, who attended Friday's signing ceremony.

IGAD's chief mediator, retired Kenyan Gen Lazaro Sumbeiywo, was also upbeat. "I trust that the fire has totally ceased in southern Sudan," he said.

Mbeki praised Taha and Garang for their determination to end the conflict. "It is our obligation to make sure that this agreement succeeds," he said.

"What we will do is to engage in post-conflict reconstruction, as the people of Sudan, wherever they are, want peace, development, roads, education, housing and clean water," Mbeki said amid cheering and dancing by members of the Sudanese community. "I think it is time for all of us to go out and celebrate."

The war in the south erupted in 1983 when the SPLM/A took up arms against the government based in the north to demand greater autonomy and access to resources. The conflict displaced hundreds of thousands of people, within Sudan and forced many others to become refugees in neighbouring countries.

Theme (s): Conflict,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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