NAIROBI, Jan. 9 -- Africa's longest-running conflict officially ended Sunday as representatives of the 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 Uthman Muhammad Taha, and the leader of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, John Garang, sign the agreement.
Sudan's first vice president, Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, left, and rebel leader John Garang display the signed peace agreement in Nairboi, the Kenyan capital.
(Thomas Mukoya -- Reuters)
_____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
Powell Sidesteps Question About Sudan Genocide (The Washington Post, Jan 9, 2005)
Sudanese Leaders, Southern Rebels Finish Peace Deal (The Washington Post, Jan 1, 2005)
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)
The two-decade civil war, which pitted the Islamic government against rebels based in the mostly animist and Christian south, left 2 million people dead, primarily from famine and disease, and 4 million homeless.
Under the accord, Islamic law, or sharia, 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 L. Powell, representing the United States, also signed the agreement as a witness. Christian evangelical groups -- a key part of President Bush's political base -- had pressed hard for a resolution, and the administration had made a peace agreement one of its top 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 rebel movement.
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 hoped 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. Others were dressed in war paint or wore ankle shakers made of beverage containers.
Young men chanted about the prosperity of peace as they danced while holding shields fashioned in the colors of the Sudanese rebel army. One dancer held a shield that appeared to be decorated with the emblems of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has coordinated $2 billion in humanitarian relief to Sudan since 1983.
The terrible cost of the war was also evident in the former soldiers at the ceremony, many of whom were missing a leg or limped across the field.