Sudan's government and two rebel groups signed an agreement on Tuesday on how to resolve the conflict in the country's western Darfur region.
Representatives of Sudan's government, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement all signed the declaration of political principles — outlining a long-term solution to the Darfur crisis — at a public ceremony in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
Negotiators agreed to broad commitments, including upholding democracy, the independence of the judiciary and "justice and equality for all, regardless of ethnicity, religion and gender."
Insurgent and government representatives have signed numerous cease-fire and other pacts during past rounds of peace talks, but none has yet calmed the crisis in Darfur.
The document appeared to fall far short of the comprehensive peace agreement originally hoped for when the latest round of peace talks began last month.
"By adopting the Declaration of Principles, you have demonstrated your own determination that you will not let down the people of Darfur ... and you will not let down our friends in the international community," Salim Ahmed Salim, the African Union's special envoy for Darfur told negotiators. The 53-nation African Union is hosting the peace talks, now in their fifth round.
Meanwhile, Robert Zoellick — the U.S. State Department's No. 2 official — said Tuesday violence is diminished and health conditions are improving but remain dire in Darfur, where more than 2 million people have
been displaced by the conflict.
It began more than two years ago when mainly ethnic African rebels launched an uprising against what they say were decades of neglect.
Sudan's Arab-dominated government and pro-government Arab tribal fighters are charged with retaliating by launching coordinated attacks on ethnic African farmers.
It is estimated that the conflict has resulted in about 180,000 deaths.
The new political arrangement is based on an agreement signed in January that formally ended Sudan's 21-year North-South civil war.
As that war wound down, the deadly Darfur conflict erupted. It was described last year as the world's most serious humanitarian disaster.
Briefing reporters Tuesday, Zoellick said that while mortality rates have declined in Darfur, the health of the people there remains fragile.
He said the United States is providing 90 percent of the food aid going to Darfur and is trying to persuade European countries to pick up a greater share of the burden.
On the situation in Darfur, Zoellick also said:
Militia responsible for dislocating civilians in Darfur have stopped doing that, but President Omar el-Bashir's government has not disbanded them.
There is a "reasonable chance" that the African Union will fulfill its plan to have 7,700 peacekeepers in place in Darfur by September. The current figure is about 2,700.
The expanded unit will include police officers, who will attempt to curb violence being committed against women in camps for the displaced.
After visiting Sudan, Zoellick will travel to Jordan to meet with senior Iraqi officials to encourage them to finish the writing of a new constitution by the Aug. 15 deadline.