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Peace comes to war torn south sudan { January 10 2005 }

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Peace comes to war-torn south Sudan
Region promised 6 years of self-rule

By Glenn Kessler
The Washington Post
Published January 10, 2005

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Africa's longest-running conflict officially ended Sunday as representatives of Sudanese government and rebel forces signed a comprehensive peace accord that gives the southern part of the country religious and political autonomy and a share of Sudan's oil riches.

Under brilliant sunshine, African leaders, diplomats and thousands of dancing and chanting Sudanese refugees gathered in Nairobi at a stadium to watch Sudan's first vice president, Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, and the leader of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, John Garang, sign the agreement.

The two-decade civil war, which pitted the Islamic government against rebels in the mostly animist and Christian south, has left 2 million people dead, primarily from famine and disease, and 4 million homeless.

Under the accord, Islamic law, or Shariah, will apply to the north but not the south. The south will have a six-year interim period of self-rule, after which it will vote in a referendum on whether to remain part of Sudan or secede. The agreement also calls for Garang to become Sudan's first vice president, replacing Taha.

Both sides face challenges in implementing the agreement, which includes enacting a new constitution and downsizing and integrating rebel forces.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, representing the United States, signed the agreement as a witness. Christian evangelical groups--a key part of President Bush's political base--pressed hard for a resolution, and the administration made a peace agreement one of its diplomatic priorities.

The deal does not address an unrelated conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where tens of thousands of people have died of malnutrition and disease in the past year. In that crisis, according to human-rights groups, the government and a militia it supports have terrorized the region in an effort to put down a separate rebellion.

Darfur conflict not part of pact

Powell told the audience in Nairobi that the two sides "must work together immediately to end the violence and atrocities that continue to occur in Darfur--not next month, or in the interim period, but right away, starting today."

Powell said the United States hopes to improve relations with Sudan, which is under U.S. sanctions, but warned that "achieving this positive relationship will only be possible in the context of peace throughout the entire country."

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared that the signing "marked the beginning of a new and bright future for Sudan." He said the marathon peace process, which started with talks in Kenya in early 2002, "demonstrates the power of dialogue and exposes the futility of war" for the rest of Africa.

Kibaki acknowledged that the two sides "will continue to face many trials in the implementation of the agreement."

Several hundred thousand Sudanese refugees live in Kenya. Sudanese spectators swarmed the soccer field during the somewhat chaotic ceremony in a melange of colorful headdresses, many decorated with shells and large feathers.

The terrible cost of the war was evident by the former soldiers at the ceremony, many of whom were missing legs or limped across the field.

Sudanese refugees interviewed during the ceremony said they believed the peace deal means that in six years southern Sudan would become an independent nation.

Hope for independence

"The southern Sudan is going to be independent by the will of God," declared Rev. Tut Nguoth, carrying his 2-year-old son and holding an SPLA rebel flag.

Rev. James Tor, 32, said he joined the SPLA when he was 12. A year later, he went to Ethiopia for three years of military training. "At 19 years, I joined the fight," he said. At 22, "I returned to church activities."

Tor scoffed at the idea that southern Sudan would remain part of the country. "It was southern Sudan they were fighting for," he said. "They were not fighting for Garang to be vice president or some other thing."

David Mozersky, a Nairobi-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, said the agreement "was very positive, but in a sense the hardest part is still ahead." He said the first test will be the drafting of a new constitution. There are concerns whether the parties will meet the deadline and whether the negotiations will be inclusive.

Mozersky said the rebels lack the capabilities and institutions to form a government and that Sudan's government has "questionable political will" to abide by the agreement. Moreover, he said, implementing the deal "will be made that much more difficult, if not impossible, unless Darfur is resolved."

About 10,000 UN peacekeepers and monitors are expected to come to the region, and Powell told Sudanese reporters Saturday that the United States is committed to helping rebuild the south's devastated infrastructure. According to one estimate, 5 million people in the south are served by 86 doctors, 600 nurses, and 23 judges.

Copyright 2005, Chicago Tribune

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