Sudan’s government and rebels are set to sign a landmark peace deal in a bid to end decades of war in which hundreds of thousands have died – an historic achievement if it holds.
Ending Sudan’s internal conflicts has been a top priority of the transition government in power since last year’s removal of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir amid a popular uprising.
Both sides are due to sign the deal in full on Saturday in Juba, the capital of neighbouring South Sudan, after putting their initials on the agreement at the end of last month.
The location of the ceremony holds great significance – South Sudan’s leaders themselves battled Khartoum as rebels for decades, before establishing the world’s newest nation-state.
“This is a historic day. We hope that the signing will end the fighting forever and pave the way for development,” Suleiman al-Dabailo, chairman of Sudan’s Peace Commission, told the AFP news agency.
The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of rebel groups from the Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan regions, also voiced hope for lasting peace.
“This day marks the success of our revolution and our fight against the old regime,” SRF spokesman Oussama Said told AFP.
Sudan has been torn by multiple conflicts between the Arab-dominated government that was led by al-Bashir for 30 years and rebels drawn from non-Arab ethnic groups in its far-flung regions.
Tensions have been heightened by economic hardship, especially after the 2011 secession of South Sudan which deprived the north of three-quarters of its oil reserves.
Multiple civil wars have raged since independence in 1956, including the 1983-2005 war that led to the secession of the south.
The devastating war in Darfur from 2003 left at least 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced in its early years, according to the United Nations.
Under the peace deal, SRF fighters are to be slowly incorporated into joint units with government security forces.
There are however holdout rebel groups who have refused to sign up to the deal.
One of them, the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction led by Abdelwahid Nour, launched an attack on Monday, the army said.
Another, the South Kordofan-based wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, signed a separate ceasefire agreement.