Abuja- Nigeria (PANA) -- The largest rebel movement in Sudan's western Darfur region said it signed the African Union-brokered peace deal to encourage international support to end the three- year-old crisis that has claimed 200,000 lives and displaced two million people.
"If we refuse to sign this agreement, we will lose the support of the international community.
We are the main movement on the ground.
We have suffered so much and I believe it is time to do something so that we can end the tragedy in Darfur," said Saifaldin Haroun, spokesman for the Minni Minnawi faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, which signed the deal with the Khartoum government in Abuja.
"We are losing families, friends, brothers and sisters in this unjustified war and I believe this is the time to make a decision.
We accept the document as the main ground for future peace," the spokesman said.
Minnawi himself assured that his group would ensure the restoration of peace to Darfur.
"Any peace that comes on paper and not on the ground is not a true peace.
We have gained peace before and lost it on the ground.
What we should call peace now should be the one enjoyed by the people of Darfur and all of Sudan.
We shall go ahead with peace," he said, appealing to the international community to support the deal.
The two smaller rebel groups, the Abdulwaheed Al-Nur faction of SLM/A and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), refused to sign the deal.
The accord calls for a fresh ceasefire, to be observed by all the parties whether or not they signed the deal, disarmament of the Janjaweed Arab militia allied to the government and the integration of some rebel fighters into Sudan armed forces, among others.
Host of the two-year Darfur peace talks, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, described Friday's signing of the accord as "the defining moment in the history of Darfur.
" Obasanjo, who sat throughout the last stages of the negotiations, which covered most of Thursday and Friday, hailed the Sudanese government and the Minnawi faction, saying: "This is the triumph of Africa doing what it should be doing with the support of the international community.
" But President Obasanjo warned that unless there is the "right spirit, the right attitude and the right disposition, this document will not be worth the paper it is written on.
" "This is what should guide the implementation of this agreement.
Those who feel unable to sign today, we will continue to appeal to them.
to see reason why they need to sign on behalf of the people they claim to lead," he added.
AU chairman and Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso described the signing of the accord as "a historic moment which offers opportunity to settle not just the Darfur crisis but also the crisis of confidence within the countries neighbouring Sudan.
" US envoy Robert Zoellick, who arrived in Nigeria early in the week to help pep up the talks, said: "It is an opportunity for a better future for amelioration of the terrible situation there (in Darfur).
" The signing was delayed as Obasanjo, Sassou-Nguesso, Zoellick, UK Minister for International Development Hilary Benn, representatives of Canada, France, EU, France, the Arab League, United Nations, Netherlands, Norway, Egypt, Italy and Libya made last-minute efforts to get the faction led by Al-Nur and JEM to sign the document.
Just before the signing, President Obasanjo read a letter from a 'group of 15', which explained it was breaking ranks with Al-Nur faction to join the vanguard for peace in their country.
The group, in the letter, said it was now clear that the rebels should not allow the opportunity for peace to slip away, adding: "Only great minds make peace.
" JEM spokesman Ahmed Tugod had said there was no way his movement would sign the deal, based on the "reasons behind the conflict and the shortcomings of the document.
" "We came to the conclusion that it is difficult for us to accept this kind of document unless fundamental changes are made to it to make it reasonable for us to sign," he added.
Al-Nur also spoke in the same vein, saying the document should be improved so his group can sign.
The agreement was the culmination of peace talks that lasted two years and one month in the Nigerian capital under AU mediation.