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Sudan official, rebel leader sign peace pact

Sudan’s vice president and a rebel leader signed Sunday a pact to end Africa’s longest-running conflict. Secretary of State Colin Powell put Sudan’s government on notice that good relations with the United States depends on halting violence in Darfur.
Sudan's First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLA) leader John Garang laugh before the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Kenya's capital Nairobi
Sudan's First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, left, and Sudan People's Liberation Movement leader John Garang share a joke Sunday before signing the comprehensive peace agreement in Nairobi.Antony Njuguna / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

After signing an accord that ends the long-running civil war in Sudan’s south, the United States expects immediate progress on the crisis in the western region of Darfur, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday.

He put Sudan’s government on notice the prospect of good relations with the United States depends on halting the violence in Darfur.

“These new ‘partners for peace’ must work together immediately to end the violence and the atrocities that continue to occur in Darfur,” Powell said.

“Not next month or in the interim period, but right away, starting today,” said the secretary, who signed on as a witness at the ceremony concluding an eight-year process to halt the war in the south.

The United States and other countries “expect the new partners to use all necessary means to stop the violence and we expect to see rapid negotiations on the crisis in Darfur,” Powell said at the ceremony.

Bush comments
Later in Washington, President Bush added that “only the implementation of this agreement in good faith can result in long-term peace and development.

“As we celebrate this positive movement toward peace in the longstanding North-South conflict, we remember the conflict in Darfur and the suffering it causes. This comprehensive peace agreement should serve as an inspiration and model for both sides in their work toward negotiating a peaceful resolution of the Darfur conflict,” Bush said.

“I call on the Government of Sudan and on all Darfur rebel groups to live up to their ceasefire commitments, to end atrocities, and to allow the free movement of humanitarian workers and supplies.”

Tens of thousands of villagers have died since non-Arab rebels rose up in February 2003 against Sudan’s Arab-dominated government and pro-government Arab tribal militia. Powell has called that conflict a genocide.

Merging north with south
The completed peace deal lays out a lengthy process to merge the black African rebel movement that controls the south with the government in Khartoum in the north. During the war, more than 2 million or more people died.

Powell said peace in Sudan was a priority of the administration from its first days and that Bush “stayed personally involved to ensure our efforts in Sudan had the administration’s highest level attention.”

Joining Powell at the ceremony was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth. He was Bush’s special envoy to the Sudan peace process.

After the signing, Powell offered hope for better relations with Sudan, which is on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. But he added, “Achieving this positive relationship will only be possible in the context of peace throughout the country.”

When black African tribes in Darfur rebelled in early 2003, they accused the national government of neglecting their interests. The Bush administration and Congress have used the term genocide to describe what followed.

Arab militias coupled with Sudanese military forces “committed large scale acts of violence, including murders, rape and physical assault on non-Arab individuals,” a State Department report said last September.

Powell cites continuing violence
Powell, in a television interview before the signing ceremony, was asked if he had any reason to believe that the genocide he said last fall was occurring had stopped.

“I have no basis to believe that, but I have no basis to make a fresh judgment now in the absence of my sending new teams in,” he told “Fox News Sunday” from Nairobi.

“But certainly the attacks against people, the moving of people off their homelands, forcing them into camps, that is continuing. So the situation continues to be very, very grim, whether you decide it is genocide or not,” Powell said. “The issue is not what you call it. It is what is happening in the region.”

He added, “We want that situation to end. The government has a responsibility, as do the rebels.”

70,000 deaths
About 70,000 people have died from disease, hunger and violence just since last March, and nearly 2 million are believed to have fled their homes. Many more are believed to have died in the fighting itself.

The United Nations last year called Darfur the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Two U.N. Security Council resolutions threatened possible penalties, as did a bill signed by Bush in December.

The Darfur crisis has attracted the interests of many conservative Christian groups and civil rights organizations in the United States.