NAIVASHA, Kenya, Dec. 31 -- The Sudanese government and rebels in the southern part of the country signed the final chapters of a peace deal Friday, clearing the way for a comprehensive accord ending Africa's longest-running civil war.
Delegates from the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army signed the last two of eight peace protocols in an accord ending 21 years of war in which 2 million people have died.
_____Crisis in Sudan_____
Q&A: Darfur A brief explanation of the issues and current humanitarian situation in Western Sudan.
Photos: Continuing Crisis
Photos: Sudan's Rebels
Sudan, Southern Rebels Set Date to Sign Pact (The Washington Post, Dec 26, 2004)
Abandoned by Bin Laden (The Washington Post, Dec 12, 2004)
A Peace Force With No Power (The Washington Post, Dec 11, 2004)
Sudan Calls for Normalized U.S. Ties (The Washington Post, Dec 6, 2004)
Danforth Says He Left Position At U.N. for Personal Reasons (The Washington Post, Dec 4, 2004)
"The war in the south is over," the Sudanese president, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Bashir, said at a ceremony in the Kenyan town of Naivasha.
Mediators said a ceremony had tentatively been scheduled for Jan. 9 in Nairobi where officials expect both principal negotiators -- rebel leader John Garang and Sudanese First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha -- to sign the eight protocols, which were reached after two years of talks.
The two sides reached various agreements over the years, but the signing of a final deal had proved elusive. Talks intensified in 2002, slowly leading to Friday's signing.
In the capital, Khartoum, southern Sudanese thronged one of the main streets where a screen had been erected to show live televised pictures of the signing. Some in the crowd held placards supporting the rebel movement, others chanted "New Sudan" or "John Garang." Garang is set to become vice president under the accords.
The accords do not cover the Darfur conflict in western Sudan, where more than a year of fighting has created what the United Nations calls one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. About 70,000 people have died in Darfur from war-related disease and hunger since March, and nearly 2 million are believed to have fled their homes.
But diplomats say a north-south deal could be a blueprint for peace in Darfur.
The north-south war has pitted Sudan's Arab-led government against mainly animist and Christian rebels seeking greater autonomy and a greater share of the country's wealth. Issues of oil, ethnicity and governance have complicated the conflict.
The government had already signed six preliminary protocols with the southern rebels allowing them to form a coalition government, decentralize power, share oil revenue and integrate the military. In six years the south can vote on secession.
The United States has put strong diplomatic pressure on Sudan to make peace in the south, so that it can focus on ending the separate crisis in Darfur.
"It will change the political landscape in Khartoum. I think it will create a new opportunity to tackle the Darfur problem, and that is what we are hoping will come out of this," said the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, William Bellamy. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in a statement that the United States "will strongly support implementation of the peace agreement."
"We are firmly committed to normalizing our relationship with the new government that will be formed as a result of the North-South accord and to assisting with reconstruction and development," Powell said. But he added that this could take place only when the peace process had been "implemented throughout the entire country."