Sudan rebels sign ceasefire

Under the terms of the deal signed after talks on Thursday in the Chadian capital Ndjamena attended by Chad’s President Idriss Deby, the parties agreed to cease hostilities within 72 hours, for a renewable period of 45 days.

They also agreed to guarantee safe passage for humanitarian aid to the stricken region, to free prisoners of war, and to disarm militias who have been blamed for much of the violence.

The Janjawid, Arab militias allied to government troops, have been accused by the UN and non-governmental organisations of “ethnic cleansing” and atrocities against civilians in the poverty-stricken, largely desert Darfur region.

The rebels in Darfur, which is populated by non-Arab Muslims, contend that their region has been marginalised by the Arab, Muslim authorities in Khartoum.

They also fear the exclusion of their region from a power and wealth-sharing accord in the final stages of negotiation between Khartoum and separatist rebels who have been at war in the mainly Christian south.

That conflict has become the longest in Africa, and has claimed an estimated 1.5 million lives since 1983.

The opposing delegations at the Chad talks have committed themselves to meeting again within 15 days in Ndjamena for new negotiations over political issues.

The agreement was signed by all the parties at the talks: the Sudanese government and the two rebel groups — the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

Two previous ceasefires have been agreed through Chadian mediation by the Sudanese government and the SLM, but not the JEM. However these collapsed relatively quickly.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed hope that the accord would end the violence that has plagued Sudan.

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