Sudan rebels agree to key peace deal to end 17-year conflict

Two key rebel forces refuse to take part in accord

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY GUILLAUME LAVALLEE<br />(FILES) A picture taken on October 17, 2007 shows fighters of the Sudanese Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) driving their battlewagon through an area on the Sudan-Chad border in northwest Darfur. The six-year Darfur conflict is almost over, Sudan's new pointman for the thorny dossier, Ghazi Salaheddin, said on June 11, 2009, inviting exiled rebel leader Abdel Wahed Mohammed Nur to seize a "historic opportunity" for peace. AFP PHOTO/AMIS/STUART PRICE *** Local Caption ***  158664-01-10.jpg

Sudan's main rebel alliance has agreed to a peace deal with the government aimed at ending 17 years of conflict, official news agency Suna said on Sunday.

The Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of rebel groups from the western region of Darfur and the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, signed a peace agreement with the government late on Saturday.

A formal signing ceremony is planned for Monday in Juba, the capital of neighbouring South Sudan, which has hosted and helped to mediate the long-running talks since late 2019.

Senior government officials and rebel leaders "signed their initials on protocols on security arrangements" and other issues, Suna reported.

But two key rebel forces have refused to take part in the deal.

The final agreement covers matters concerning security, land ownership, transitional justice, power sharing and the return of people who fled their homes because of war.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok addresses the press after meeting with his Egyptian counterpart (unseen) in Sudan's capital Khartoum, on August 15, 2020. / AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY

It also calls for the dismantling of rebel forces and the integration of their fighters into the national army.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and several ministers flew to Juba on Sunday, where he met South Sudan President Salva Kiir.

Mr Hamdok said that finding a deal had taken longer than first hoped after an initial agreement in September 2019.

"At the Juba declaration in September, everyone expected peace to be signed within two or three months," he said.

"But we realised that the questions were of great complexity. However, we were able to accomplish this great work and this is the start of peace-building."

The rebel forces took up arms against what they said was the economic and political marginalisation by the government in Khartoum.

They are largely from non-Arab minority groups who long railed against Arab domination of successive governments in Khartoum, including that of toppled autocrat Omar Al Bashir.

About 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since rebels took up arms there in 2003, the UN said.

Conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile erupted in 2011 after unresolved issues from bitter fighting there in Sudan's 1983-2005 civil war.

Forging peace with rebels has been a cornerstone of Sudan's transitional government, which came to power in the months after Al Bashir's overthrow in April 2019 following mass protests against his rule.

The two rebel forces holding out against signing the deal are a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement, led by Abdelwahid Nour, and a wing of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North, led by Abdelaziz Al Hilu.

Previous peace accords in Sudan, including one signed in Nigeria in 2006 and another in Qatar in 2010, have fallen through over the years.