The presidents of Sudan and Chad signed a peace deal to suppress armed groups operating along their shared border — a move toward stability in the battered Darfur region of Sudan where both governments have claimed rebels are backed by the other.
The deal came Thursday even as Chad accused Sudan of backing a new rebel advance into its territory.
The agreement, signed by Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Chad's Idriss Deby, commits the two nations to implementing past accords that have so far failed to help end violence in the area. It calls for the establishment of a monitoring group of foreign ministers from each country that would meet monthly to be sure there are no violations.
"We hope that this accord will open a new page in the relations between the two countries," Sudanese President al-Bashir told reporters after the signing in Senegal's capital, Dakar.
If successful, though, it would only be a small step toward ending violence in Sudan's Darfur region. The two countries have signed a series of previous deals in recent years — Tripoli and Khartoum in 2006, Cannes and Riyad in 2007.
Deby: This time it's different
But Chad's Deby said this deal is different in that it puts concrete implementation to earlier promises, was witnessed by a host of high-level international diplomats and fellow African heads of state and because the will for peace is finally there.
"This one is the best," Deby said of the deal. "The guarantee is the belief in peace. The peace needs to be a peace in our hearts."
A text of the deal said the two leaders agreed to "inhibit all activities of armed groups and prevent the use of our respective territories for the destabilization of one or the other of our states."
The deal was brokered by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. Senegal is hosting a summit of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest Muslim organization, in Dakar.
Wade has tried to cast himself as a continental peacemaker and had hoped to bring the two leaders together to sign a peace deal on the eve of the summit. But Wednesday's talks were canceled after al-Bashir, who was in Dakar, failed to show up.
Chad's government issued a statement Thursday accusing Sudan of launching "several heavily armed columns" against Chad on Wednesday. The Chadian government called the fighters "mercenaries," its term for Chadian rebels it accuses Sudan of backing, and said they had crossed from Sudan and reached a border town, Moudeina.
Sudan denies charges
Sudan's state minister for foreign affairs said the charges were unfounded.
"This is not true," Al Sammani al-Wasila said. "It is not happening and it is not going to happen. We are freely committed. Our borders were closed since the last agreement signed" in October 2007.
"We came with an open mind and an open heart with the goodwill to improve our relations. It is not a choice."
Deby has also accused Sudanese authorities of arming rebels who launched a failed assault last month on the Chadian capital, N'djamena. The rebels reached the gate of the presidential palace, but fled toward Sudan after Chad's army repelled them in fighting that left hundreds dead. Sudan, meanwhile, has repeatedly accused Chad of supporting Darfur rebels.
The deal proposed by Senegal would have aimed to commit them to implementing earlier, faltered, accords in a step toward calming Darfur and other areas on their shared border.