ABUJA, Nigeria – The Sudanese government and rebel representatives signed accords Tuesday aimed at ending hostilities in the troubled western region of Darfur (search) and guaranteeing aid groups access to 1.6 million civilians uprooted by the conflict.
For the first time, Sudan (search) agreed to creation of "no-fly zones" over Darfur, banning military flights over rebel-held territories.
Rebels and African Union (search) mediators had demanded the no-fly zones following widespread accusations of government bombings of villages.
"It is really a historic moment," Sudanese spokesman Ibrahim Mohammed Ibrahim said. "We will do our most to make sure it is implemented on the ground. Only that will bring peace and stability to Darfurians."
Sudan signed under international pressure including threat of U.N. sanctions, after 21 months of conflict that have driven 1.8 million people — most of them non-Arab villagers — into camps in Darfur and neighboring Chad.
The accords on security and humanitarian access came in the third week of talks in Nigeria's capital, after two previous rounds of African Union-brokered talks failed without any agreements signed.
Tuesday's progress came without any agreement on a political accord with long-term solutions to the Darfur crisis. An April cease-fire has been widely ignored by all sides.
"My question is what is going to happen in practice," said Mahgoub Hussain of the Sudan Liberation Army (search), the larger of two rebel groups signing Tuesday. "Because we've had ... agreements like this in the past."
Sudan's Arab-dominated government is accused of mobilizing the militia for attacks on Darfur's non-Arab villagers in retaliation for uprisings launched by two rebel movements in February 2003. Arab herdsmen have long competed for resources with Darfur's non-Arab population. The government denies backing the militias.
International agencies estimate that, since March, disease, malnutrition and clashes among those made homeless by the violence have killed more than 70,000 of Darfur's displaced. Many more have been killed in fighting since the conflict broke out in February 2003, although no firm estimate of the direct toll of the war yet exists.