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Historic Sudan peace accord signed

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CNN's Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports on the peace accord that ends 21 years of civil war.
• Cease-fire deal reached in Sudan

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- After nearly three years of negotiations, Sudan's government and main rebel group Sunday have signed comprehensive peace accords to end more than 21 years of civil war.

The ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, was attended by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, fresh from a visit to tsunami-struck regions in South Asia.

The agreement was signed by Sudan's Vice President Ali Osman Taha and Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLA) leader John Garang.

International officials hope that the agreement will bring Khartoum closer to solving its problems in the western Darfur region, .

The southern rebels -- mostly Christian and animist -- and the mostly Muslim government signed a permanent cease-fire last week.

The war was sparked by a government effort to impose Islamic law on the mostly Christian south in 1983. The resulting war was fueled by the south's rich oil reserves, ethnicity and a desire for self governance. Over two million deaths, many from starvation, are blamed on the 21-year-old conflict.

Both the government and the rebel group will not disband their armies under the agreement, and could return to war if they hit a snag along the road to peace, according to Kenyan envoy Lazarus Sumbeiyo.

"A major guarantee (of the agreement) is the retention of the two armies through the interim period, which in effect what it is saying is if we don't agree along the road, then we go back to war because they've just come from war," he said. "But I don't think the people of Sudan, both North and South, would want to go back to war."

Whether the people of Sudan want war or not, the rebel group warns it is more than prepared to return to the battlefield.

"If the North was to abrogate, then this is an open fight because this time we are not going to fight in the bushes but we are going to be in town so we are going to say, 'Okay, you are abrogating the agreement, then we deploy all our forces along the North,'" said SPLA representative Samson Kwaje. "I don't think Khartoum will like this situation so that we go back to war."

But as Khartoum makes peace on one front, another violent conflict persists in western Sudan.

When asked about ending that war, the government says the agreement with the SPLA rebels will provide the impetus for a speedy resolution to the insurgency in the West.

"Darfur happened because of the war in the South, because the war was taking all our money, our efforts," said Sudan's Ambassador to Kenya Ali Abdel Rahman Nimeri.

"That's why Darfur as a place in the Sudan had been neglected for a time -- no development and no government to act there.

"Now we have free hands to work for Darfur, also, the SPLA will put its input into this problem and we are sure that Darfur will just vanish."

It will be an uphill battle, as peace talks with rebels in the West have failed time and time again.

For now, though, the country celebrates a hard-won deal that elevates Garang to the post of First Vice-President.

Over the next six months, he and President Omar el-Bashir must prepare an interim power-sharing government for a six-year term challenged with making peace a reality for all Sudanese.

CNN Producer Gladys Njorge in Nairobi and Correspondent Tumi Makgabo contributed to this report

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