The main rebel group in Sudan and the Sudanese government signed a critical security deal Thursday, taking a major step toward ending Africa's longest war. Sudan's First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha called the signing a historic occasion. He said it has paved the way for a peace process and stability in Sudan.

The signing cleared what had been a major stumbling block to peace negotiations aimed at ending 20 years of civil war, which has claimed the lives of as many as two million people. Both sides agreed on how many government and rebel People's Liberation Army security personnel will be deployed throughout Sudan and where.

With the security issue now resolved, Sudan's secretary general for foreign media, Wahab el Sawi, told VOA, settling the remaining issues and reaching a final peace agreement should be fairly easy.

"The power-sharing and the wealth-sharing, I think that these are points, which are of less importance than that of security," he said. "And, it will be easy for both sides to get into an agreement for them. And, this will form the comprehensive agreement, which will be signed later."

Government and rebel officials said signing the security agreement will give both sides the impetus to negotiate on other issues.

Thursday's signing ceremony took place near Lake Naivasha, about 90 kilometers from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Chief mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo said both sides have demonstrated that the Sudanese people have decided to cross the bridge of peace, together.

Sudan has endured two decades of civil war, which erupted in 1983, when rebels from mostly animist and Christian southern Sudan began fighting for greater independence from the Islamist government in the north.