NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan. 9 - To cries of "God is great!" in
Arabic and "Hallelujah!" the Islamic government of Sudan
signed a peace agreement on Sunday with a Christian rebel
group in the south that called for an end to one of
Africa's fiercest and longest-running civil wars.
Several thousand onlookers - most of them Sudanese refugees
who had known nothing but war in their homeland - danced
with glee at a downtown sports arena here as Sudan's vice
president, Ali Osman Taha, and the rebel leader, John
Garang, initialed the agreement, which had been years in
"Half my life has been spent in exile," said a jubilant
Grace Datiro, 35, who fled to neighboring Kenya soon after
the war began in 1983. "I hope my children don't have to be
refugees like I was. I pray that this fighting is over
forever and that we can finally live in peace."
The celebration was tempered by the fact that the war
continued in other parts of Sudan. The western Darfur
region, where clashes involve different rebels, was not
covered under the agreement.
The pact calls for a six-year transition period to ease the
combatants toward peace. It is fraught with potential
complications but, if it works, it could help bring
development to one of the world's most destitute and
Southern Sudan has been living in a time warp. Modern
warplanes fly overhead, raining down bombs, but the people
live in squalor, many without schools, roads or health
"We're tired of running and suffering and dying," said
Bulkuer Malyok, a chief from southern Sudan who came to
Nairobi for the signing.
The agreement calls for merging fighting forces, sharing
oil wealth and dividing political offices between
northerners and southerners. Mr. Garang will become a vice
president, reporting to President Omar Hassan el-Bashir,
who seized power in a coup in 1989.
Some two million people have died in the decades of war,
from starvation and disease as well as from bullets and
bombs. Previous negotiations have gone nowhere, and this
round of talks, which traces its origins back to 1997, had
often been close to collapse.
Putting former foes together in the same government has
been tried elsewhere in Africa with mixed results. Rwanda
erupted into genocide in 1994 after a peace deal between
the Hutu and the Tutsi failed to win full Hutu support.
Congo signed a peace agreement in 1999, but true peace
remains elusive. In Burundi, a power-sharing government has
yet to win over all the rebel factions wreaking havoc
there. The lesson in all those cases has been that peace is
a process, often a long one full of setbacks.
"It's a big day but I'm not euphoric," said John C.
Danforth, the American ambassador to the United Nations and
President Bush's former special envoy to Sudan. "It's like
climbing Mount Everest. You reach one pinnacle and there
are ranges of mountains behind."
Lazaro Sumbeiywo, the Kenyan general who acted as chief
mediator during the talks, called the deal "a precious
child to nurture with love and care."
Southerners will be given some autonomy in the coming years
and must create a functioning government from scratch.
Armies must be merged. Mines must be removed. Decisions
must be made by compromise instead of issued by fiat from
Khartoum, the capital.
The agreement calls for a referendum in six years among
southerners to determine whether they wish to remain part
of a unified Sudan. Few expect Sudan's government to allow
a split to occur, but the vote is considered a major
incentive for inclusive rule in the years ahead.
There are many symbolic elements in the agreement aimed at
unifying the country. Both English, which is widely spoken
in the south, and Arabic, the predominant language of the
north, will become the official languages. New paper money
will be issued with a design reflecting the country's
diversity. A dual banking system is to be set up.
The agreement calls for Islamic law to apply only in the
north. Its application to Christian and animist southerners
helped set off the fighting.
Revenue from Sudan's oil deposits in the south, which has
also given impetus to the fighting, will be divided evenly
between north and south. Communities in areas of oil
production, which are mostly found in the south, will have
a say in oil contracts.
Disarming the armies will be a major challenge. More than
100,000 government and rebel forces will redeploy,
respecting a north-south boundary drawn in 1956. Three
forces - government troops, rebel forces and integrated
units made up of soldiers from both sides - will exist
during the initial years of the agreement.
The United Nations has begun looking into the logistics of
providing a peacekeeping force in Sudan to help make the
There is also much rebuilding to do. Millions of Sudanese
fled the country, and the United Nations expects many of
them to begin returning once peace takes hold. Others had
fled fighting in one part of the country and found
themselves unable to cross battle lines to return home.
The Bush administration, from its earliest days, had sought
to prod the parties toward a deal but had encountered
frustration after frustration.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was on hand to
witness the signing on Sunday, visited Kenya just over a
year ago in the hope that the deal would be signed then.
Other deadlines also lapsed. As the talks dragged on, the
fighting in Darfur broke out and grew more dire. The latest
United Nations report on Darfur, released Friday, described
repeated violations of a cease-fire agreement by both the
government and the rebels, and a major buildup of
Mr. Powell has called the fighting in Darfur a genocide,
but he and other American officials have been cautious, not
wanting to damage the talks. He spoke pointedly, though, at
the signing ceremony on Sunday. "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 in the crisis in Darfur."
Many details remain to be worked out for the agreement,
which must be ratified by Parliament and rebel leaders. The
first challenge will be to complete a new constitution in
two months, part of an ambitious timeline.
In the hoopla at the signing ceremony, David Mozersky, of
the International Crisis Group, an independent group that
tries to prevent and resolve global conflicts, said the
government in Khartoum had shown "a history of breaking
promises," making the continued involvement of the United
States and other outsiders a necessity if the peace
agreement is to succeed.
"There's no guarantee the government will implement what
they've agreed to," Mr. Mozersky said, then quickly added
that it was still a historic day.
Scott Shane contributed reporting for this article.