by Joyce Mulama
(IPS) NAIROBI -- More than two years of talks to end Africa's longest-running civil war paid dividends over the weekend, when a final peace accord was signed between Sudan's government and southern rebels.
The two parties had previously drawn up protocols stipulating how power and wealth should be shared in a post-conflict Sudan.
The signing ceremony, which took place at Nyayo stadium in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, Sunday, was attended by 15 African heads of state and almost 20,000 Sudanese -- some of whom traveled from their country for the occasion.
Dressed in hides and multi-colored turbans bedecked with ostrich feathers, the spectators broke into song and dance as the agreement was sealed. Many wore metal rattles on their feet which produced a rhythmic sound that resonated, along with loud drum beats, in the stadium.
The chairman of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), John Garang, and Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha signed the accord -- while various dignitaries initialed it as witnesses.
These included American Secretary of State Colin Powell, who attended the ceremony along with the United States' ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth. President George W. Bush appointed Danforth as his special envoy to Sudan in 2001.
The African Union (AU) was represented on Sunday by Atiku Abubakar, the vice-president of Nigeria which currently chairs the AU -- and the UN by the secretary-general's special envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk.
Representatives from the Arab League and European Union were also in attendance, as well as delegates from the Inter Governmental Authority on Development. This regional body mediated in Sudanese peace talks, which got underway in 2002.
"Today is a glorious day for Sudan and Africa -- a day to alleviate the distress and suffering of our people. It is a great day when insecurity will be replaced by security and displacement by homecoming," Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed el-Bashir told those at Nyayo stadium.
For his part, Garang remarked, "This peace agreement signals the beginning of one Sudan regardless of race, religion or tribe."
"If the country fails to rise to this challenge, if the government of national unity does not work, then the union will be dissolved amicably and peacefully through a referendum," he added.
This was in reference to a clause in the peace accord providing for a referendum in about six years time, when southerners will be allowed to vote on secession from the rest of Sudan.
In the interim the south will enjoy autonomy under the leadership of Garang, who will also serve as vice-president in a government of national unity. Oil revenues will be shared between the former warring parties, while their forces will be integrated into a single army.
In addition, traditional Islamic law -- sharia -- will only be enforced in northern Sudan.
For most of the period following independence from Britain in 1956, the country has been wracked by conflict between the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south, which fought for political independence and religious freedom. Although the World Council of Churches helped broker a peace accord in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in 1972, fighting resumed in 1983.
Disputes over who should control southern Sudan's oil resources widened the divide between Khartoum and the SPLM/A. More then two million people have died in the conflict or as a result of the disease and famine that accompanied it, while four million others have been displaced.
But while war in the south has been brought to an end, the Darfur region in western Sudan remains in turmoil.
The conflict in this area began in 2003, when rebels from the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement took up arms to protest against the alleged marginalization of Darfur by Khartoum.
Authorities are said to be terrorizing civilians in order to quell support for the two groups and put an end to their activities.
Government is also accused of providing support to Arab militias known as the Janjaweed ("men on horseback"), which have reportedly committed a range of human rights abuses while raiding villages in Darfur. Diplomats and rights activists have variously described the actions of government and the Janjaweed as tantamount to ethnic cleansing -- or even genocide.
Over 70,000 people have died in the Darfur conflict according to the UN, while about 1.6 million others have been displaced. Violence in the region is also informed by long-standing differences between nomadic Arabs and settled ethnic groups over the control of land.
While the AU is mediating in talks between government and rebel groups in Darfur, the discussions adjourned on Dec. 10, 2004, with little in the way of progress. Powell said Sunday that Sudan's government and the SPLM/A would have to spearhead peace efforts in Darfur.
"The two must work together to implement the comprehensive peace agreement, which provides a wider solution to the problem of Darfur...We expect to see rapid negotiations to resolve the Darfur conflict," he remarked.
For 37-year-old Alkuer Aliek, however, simply the prospect of lasting peace in southern Sudan is something to aspire to.
"I lost my legs after being shot by rebels 15 years ago," he told IPS at Sunday's ceremony.
"My parents and three brothers died from the shoot out when the rebels raided our camp in the south. My two sisters ran for dear life, and since then we have never seen each other. I do not know where to find them now."
January 10, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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