Sudan signs peace deal with eastern rebels

Author : Mircea Birca | Sunday, October 15, 2006
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KHARTOUM (AP) — The Sudanese government signed a peace deal Saturday in Eritera with a group of rebels from the mountains of eastern Sudan ending a deadly strife that has been overshadowed by the conflict in Darfur.

“I tell you that we will abide by this agreement,” Sudanese President Omar Bashir said in a speech before the deal was signed. The ceremony was held in the city of Asmara in neighbouring Eritrea.

Bashir and First Vice President Salva Kiir had travelled to Eritrea to sign the deal with leaders of the Eastern Rebel Front under supervision of Eritrea’s government.

Among those attending the ceremony were Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa.

Negotiations have been going on steadily for three weeks in Asmara. Early this week, the two sides announced that an agreement had been reached on three issues: Wealth sharing, division of power and security arrangements.

Bashir promised Saturday that all the money that were being spent on war will be paid for development. The final peace deal was set to call for a ceasefire, the lifting of a state of emergency in Sudan’s east and the deployment of Sudanese forces to the region, according to the official Sudanese news agency SUNA. Some $600 million also would be allocated to health and water programmes in the area over the next five years, SUNA reported.

The conflict in Sudan’s east bore some similarities to the more-publicised strife in Darfur, located in western Sudan.

In 2005, the UN World Food Programme said the malnutrition rate in the east had grown worse than in Darfur. Some Darfur rebels also have fought in the east, and Eritrea has a history of supporting both the eastern and western Darfurian rebels. Before the signing, Bashir repeated his rejection to allowing UN peacekeepers to be deployed in Darfur.

The UN wants to send 20,000 UN troops to the wartorn region to replace an ill-equipped and understaffed African Union force that has not been able to quell the violence.

More than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced in Darfur since rebel groups rose up against the Khartoum government in early 2003.

Sudan “will never be the first African country to allow recolonisation of the continent to begin on its soil,” Bashir said.

“But we are for a United Nations role that would provide logistical and material assistance to the African Union to carry out its role,” he added.

The signing of the agreement in Eritrea is considered a relief to Khartoum, which has been struggling to put down rebellions on both sides of the country, as well as keep a shaky peace after a civil war with the south.

The Eastern Rebel Front has fought an intermittent war with the Sudanese government for 10 years.

The group claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on Sudan’s infrastructure, including an oil pipeline, and has ambushed cargo convoys and passengers buses. It also has threatened a vital road linking Khartoum with the country’s main seaport on the Red Sea in eastern Sudan.

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