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Khartoum, Sudanese Rebels Sign Ceasefire Agreement - 2002-01-19

After a week of negotiations in Switzerland, the Sudanese government and rebels signed a ceasefire agreement Saturday covering the Nuba Mountains region. Swiss authorities said the agreement is part of intensive efforts to put an end to 18 years of civil war in Sudan.

The joint Swiss-American negotiating initiative to secure a limited, but renewable, cease-fire in Sudan's central Nuba Mountains region has borne fruit. Swiss Ambassador Josef Bucher chaired the negotiations outside of Lucerne, and explained the significance of the agreement to VOA.

"The cease-fire should enter into force in 72 hours. An international monitoring-joint military commission is going to be established, and this commission has to monitor the cease-fire. If that is implemented as signed, it will for sure be a contribution to enhancing the peace process," he said.

Rebels led by the SPLM, or Sudan People's Liberation Movement, and its army, the SPLA, have been fighting for greater autonomy for the mostly Christian south against the Islamist government in northern Sudan. The Nuba Mountains region has been aligned with southern rebels since 1985.

Ambassador Bucher said the cease-fire for the Nuba Mountains is fixed for a period of six months, but it can be renewed after 150 days, if both parties agree.

"The substance of the agreement is a disengagement between the forces of the SPLA Nuba and the government, in the sense that two big and two small exclusive zones are established for the SPLA Nuba, within the broader, governmentheld territory," he said.

Mr. Bucher said the international force monitoring the cease-fire will not be linked to the United Nations. He said the parties to the agreement specified that the monitors will come from Western Europe, Canada and the United States.

The Swiss diplomat added that the Nuba Mountains cease-fire is but one of four parts to a peace initiative set down by special U.S. envoy to Sudan John Danforth. Senator Danforth earlier this week said he hoped a cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains could serve as a model for the rest of Sudan.