From the Washington Post:
The government of Sudan and the biggest Darfur rebel faction agreed early this morning to strike a peace deal, raising hopes for a breakthrough in the bloody conflict that has left more than 2 million people homeless.
Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, who has spent three days--and nights-- shuttling between the parties in talks held in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, announced the accord. Two smaller rebel groups balked at signing the deal, despite intensive pressure from Zoellick and other foreign officials gathered for the final push.
As many as 450,000 people have died from the fighting or disease and malnutrition during the conflict, which broke out in early 2003 when two African rebel groups attacked police stations and military outposts. The United Nations and human rights groups accuse the Arab-led central government of supporting militiamen, called the Janjaweed, to crush the rebellion. About 2,000 villages have been destroyed in Darfur, which is an area the size of France.
U.S. officials believe an accord is essential in order to convince Khartoum to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force that would include logistical assistance from NATO. The African Union currently has a 7,000-person force with a limited mandate that many experts say has been ineffective at stopping the fighting.
The Sudanese government and the rebel groups have broken many agreements with each other during two years of peace negotiations. But U.S. officials believe reaching an agreement with the largest group, headed by Minii Minnawi, is key to achieving a lasting accord.
As negotiations stretched into the wee hours, Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, confronted the rebel leaders and told them they should accept the agreement crafted by Zoellick or they will miss a historic opportunity. Minnawi accepted while the others walked out of the talks, with one of the groups appearing to splinter further.
In the past year, Zoellick has become the administration's point man on Sudan, making four trips to Khartoum and the Darfur region to press the two sides to reach an agreement. He also has shepherded efforts to implement another peace deal, signed last year, that ended a 20-year conflict between Khartoum, which is Arab and Muslim, and the southern part of the country, which is largely animist and Christain.
Three deadlines for a peace deal had passed since Sunday, and the final agreement is an amended version of a draft document produced earlier in the week by the African Union, which mediated the talks. It calls for a cease-fire, disarming of the Janjaweed militias, the integration of thousands of rebel fighters into Sudan's armed forces and a force to protect civilians.
Political provisions included guarantees that rebel factions will have the majority in Darfur's three state legislatures. But the rebels did not get the national vice presidency they had sought.
Minnawi spokesman Saifaldin Haroun told the Associated Press the faction still had concerns about power sharing, but was no longer insisting Sudan have a vice president from Darfur.
The other factions were holding out over demands for a vice president's spot as opposed to a top presidential adviser from Darfur and concerns that security and compensation for war victims were not guaranteed.
One faction is led by Abdel Wahid Nur, who founded the Sudanese Liberation Movement that launched the revolt against the government but has since split. One of Nur's top negotiators, Abdulrahman Moussa, said he was forming his own Front for Liberation and Renaissance and taking half of Nur's camp with him to support the peace agreement.
The other rebel group is the Justice and Equality Movement.
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