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Sudanese Sign Deal to Bolster Peace Agreement

Representatives of North and South Sudan signed an agreement Wednesday resolving most of the outstanding disputes on implementing their landmark peace deal. The parties failed to reach consensus on two key issues and will continue with additional talks next month.

The points of agreement document, which addresses 10 specific areas of contention, is meant to bolster the 2005 North-South peace agreement, which ended decades of civil war.

The deal sets specific processes and timetables toward implementing the details of the peace agreement, including border demarcation, wealth-sharing, democratic transformation and security issues. The Juba agreement is the product of talks facilitated by the United States since June this year.

The negotiator for the southern ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement, Maliki Agar, said that the pact would strengthen the fragile peace relations between North and South.

"We hope by so initialing that we have cleared the dust around [these issues], and that the implementation of all of these are going to be worked out and fixed, so that we can start the implementation of these issues, which were lagging behind the schedule of the implementation of the peace agreement," Agar said.

Ghazi Salahuddin, the representative at the talks for the North's ruling National Congress Party, likewise hailed the deal as a significant step forward.

"We've been through difficult times, we've differed as usual, but I think we've achieved a lot by agreeing on 10 issues out of 12 issues," Salahuddin said.

The deal was mediated by U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration, who will be returning next month to work out the unresolved points.

"There are still two issues that remain to be fully worked out, and we will continue to negotiate these issues - they include the referendum and the census," Gration said. "These will be worked out both bilaterally and trilaterally in the next month."

Under the 2005 peace agreement, the South has the option to choose independence from the North in a January 2011 referendum.

But continuing disagreements over who is eligible to vote and what percentage of the vote the referendum needs in order to pass has prompted the head of the southern SPLM to threaten the North with unilateral secession should their disagreements remain unresolved.

The SPLM also continues to reject the country's official national census results, which are crucial for determining regional power in elections now scheduled for April 2010, saying that the population figures drastically undercount southern Sudanese.

The Juba document will now be sent to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for formal ratification.