The Government of Sudan and southern rebels today pledged to end two decades of war by 31 December, signing a memorandum in front of the United Nations Security Council which had convened in neighbouring Kenya in a rare session outside New York to press for peace in Africa's largest county.
Immediately afterwards the 15-member body - meeting outside UN Headquarters in New York for the first time in 14 years and for just the fourth instance in half a century - unanimously adopted a resolution promising speedy aid once the war is formally ended and voicing the hope that the peace in the south would spill over into Darfur in the west, which the UN has termed the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding by the Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) was the climax of the two-day Council meeting in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, and the culmination of two years of talks between the parties. Secretary-General Kofi Annan attended the meeting yesterday and urged the parties to seize the opportunity to end the country's "long nightmare" of civil wars.
Sudan's First Vice President Ali Othman Taha told the Council his country now looked forward to reaping the dividends of peace with an international donor conference scheduled to be held in Norway.
SPLM/A leader John Garang also stressed the need for international aid, noting that of 48 years since Sudan won independence 39 have witnessed war and urging donors to honour their pledges and release funds.
While stressing its strong support for the efforts of the Government and the SPLM/A to reach a comprehensive peace agreement, much of the Council's resolution was devoted to the conflict in Darfur, where about 1.7 million people have been displaced and Janjaweed militias stand accused of killing and raping thousands of villagers after rebel groups took up arms last year demanding a greater share of economic resources.
It voiced "serious concern at the growing insecurity and violence in Darfur, the dire humanitarian situation, continued violations of human rights and repeated breaches of the ceasefire."
The Council demanded that Government and rebel forces and all other armed groups immediately cease all violence there and cooperate with international humanitarian relief and monitoring efforts, warning that the Council would "take appropriate action against any party failing to fulfil its commitments."
It called on Member States to provide urgent and generous contributions to the humanitarian efforts underway in Sudan and neighbouring Chad, where some 200,000 Sudanese from Darfur have sought refuge.
Council members took the floor to voice support for the peace efforts, with several emphasizing the exceptional nature of the body's meeting in Kenya both as a signal of the importance it gave to ending the war in Africa's largest country and as an opportunity to take back to New York a better understanding of the continent.
Video of Security Council meeting [2hrs 34mins]