United Nations officials headed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan have welcomed today's initialling of the two final protocols of a comprehensive peace deal to end a 21-year civil war in southern Sudan that has claimed the lives of two million people and displaced up to four million others.
Meeting their own deadline to reach an agreement by the end of this year, representatives of the Sudanese Government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) - who had been negotiating in Naivasha, Kenya - signed protocols on establishing a permanent ceasefire and on implementing all of their agreements on the ground.
In a statement issued by his spokesman, Mr. Annan said the deal would usher in "a new era of peace" in Sudan, which has been beset by civil conflict in the south since 1983. Today's protocols join earlier agreements signed by Khartoum and the SPLM/A on issues such as power-sharing and the distribution of economic resources, including oil.
"He commends the dedication of the Sudanese delegates, who persevered to bring the talks to a successful conclusion by the agreed timeline," the statement read.
Mr. Annan hailed "the relentless diplomatic efforts" of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), especially its Chief Mediator, Gen. Lazarus Sumbeiywo, a regional grouping of countries which sponsored the Naivasha talks. He also praised Kenya and the members of the so-called diplomatic Troika (Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States) for their help.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, who will attend a formal signing ceremony in Nairobi on 9 January, said the agreement ends a war "that drained for more than two decades the resources of the country and inflicted an unbearable suffering on its people."
The agreement does not cover a separate conflict between Khartoum and rebel groups that has engulfed the Darfur region in Sudan's west since early last year. More than 1.85 million people are displaced from their homes there and tens of thousands of others have been killed or died from disease or starvation.
Responding to a reporter's question yesterday, Mr. Annan said he hoped the peace agreement for southern Sudan would serve as a blueprint for resolving the Darfur crisis.