, Khartoum, Sudan, Aug 9 – Prominent Sudanese rebel groups said Tuesday they have signed a roadmap brokered by African Union mediators to end deadly conflicts in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced over the years in the three regions as ethnic minority groups rebelled against President Omar al-Bashir’s Arab-dominated government.
While Khartoum representatives signed the roadmap at a previous round of talks in March in Addis Ababa, prominent rebel groups refused to come on board at the time.
But on Monday they signed it in the Ethiopian capital.
“The top priority is to stop the wars and deliver humanitarian aid to people affected,” Sudan Call, a Sudanese group comprising several rebel movements and opposition political parties, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The Sudanese people look forward to a comprehensive peace process.”
The roadmap paves the way for a permanent ceasefire to be negotiated and ways for humanitarian aid to be delivered to the three areas.
While Khartoum says that the conflict in Darfur that erupted in 2003 has already ended, neither the government forces nor rebels have gained a decisive upper hand in Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
“What happened yesterday is a positive step on the road to a comprehensive and peaceful solution to the Sudan crisis,” Jibril Bilal, spokesman for the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, told AFP on Tuesday.
“We will now start direct negotiations for a ceasefire in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.”
He said a ceasefire will help “bring security in these three areas and also help deliver humanitarian aid to civilians” there.
Monday’s signing of the roadmap boosts Bashir’s government as the initiative is backed by Washington, the European Union and regional countries.
It is also expected to give an impetus to an ongoing broader national dialogue aimed at addressing overall discontent in Sudan and ease pressure on its sanctions-hit economy starved of hard currency since South Sudan separated in 2011.
The fighting in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan has sucked a lot of resources from the economy and also hindered progress on debt relief, experts say.
Sudan owes tens of billions of dollars in debt, and is under a US trade embargo.
The civil war in neighbouring South Sudan has further impacted Khartoum’s economic recovery.
The wars in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and the older insurgency in Darfur — a region of the size of France — are fuelled by complaints of economic and political neglect by Bashir’s government.