Sudan signs historic peace deal with five rebel groups, some hold out

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Sudan’s power-sharing government signed a peace agreement with key rebel groups on Monday, a significant step towards resolving deep-rooted conflicts from the long rule of ousted leader Omar al-Bashir.

The leaders of five groups signed the deal, including four from Darfur, where more than 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed and 2.5 million displaced since 2003, and one from southern regions which say they were also marginalized.

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But two major factions, one from Darfur and one from the south, did not sign and the cash-strapped transitional government will struggle to pay for the return of millions of displaced people and regional development promised in the deal.

“The main challenge facing us now is the implementation of the peace agreement, and finding donations to do that,” Jibril Ibrahim, leader of Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said after he and the other rebel leaders signed the agreement.

Corruption and brutal state repression meant Sudan, a nation of 42 million people, has been riven by regional conflicts for decades. The crisis intensified after its oil-rich south became independent in 2011, beginning a slow economic decline that fueled the protests which pushed Bashir from power last year.

Read more: US, UK, Norway welcome Sudan peace agreement in joint statement

The civilian and military leaders who have shared power since then say ending internal conflicts is a top priority in the path to democracy for the once-pariah state. Analysts said Monday’s deal, signed in the South Sudanese capital Juba, was very important but left big gaps.

Jonas Horner, senior Sudan analyst from the International Crisis Group think tank, called it “a hugely significant sign of progress for Sudan’s transition” but said it was far from comprehensive and significant hurdles remained.

Former pariah state

The deal offers rebels political representation and devolved powers, integration into the security forces, economic and land rights and the chance of return for displaced people.

Along with JEM, it was signed by Minni Minawi’s Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), also from Darfur, and by Malik Agar, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), from the southern South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions.

Two smaller groups, the Transitional Council Movement and the Coalition of Sudan Liberation Movement, also signed, but one major SPLM-N faction, and an SLA faction led by Abdel Wahed el-Nur, did not.

Yasir Saad Arman, deputy head of Agar’s SPLM-N’s faction, said hold-out factions might join later.

“This will open the door for those who didn’t come,” he said. “It is a great chance for civilian protection.”

Abdelaziz Al-Hilu, leader of one of the holdouts, wants Sudan, whose law is founded on Islam, to be a secular state.

Nationally, the rebel signatories will get three seats on the ruling council, five ministries, and a quarter of the 300 seats on the transitional legislative council between them, said Faisal Mohammed Salih, Sudan’s information minister.

The rebels also get 40 percent of posts in their regional governments, which will receive 40 percent of locally raised revenues, and a new fund will pay $750 million a year for 10 years to impoverished southern and western regions, Salih said.

The conflict in Darfur ignited in 2003 after fighters took up arms against the central government, triggering a scorched-earth campaign by government forces and allied Arab militias that included ethnic cleansing and widespread sexual violence.

Bashir, who took power in a coup in 1989, was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 and 2010 for crimes against humanity.

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