Officials from the two sides signed the two protocols in the Kenyan north-western town of Naivasha in the presence of Sudanese President Omar el-Beshir, South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki and Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori, who represented President Mwai Kibaki.

The first protocol on a permanent ceasefire was signed by Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) commander Taban Deng, while General Mohamed Hassan el-Fadow signed for the government.

The second protocol on implementation modalities was signed by SPLM/A spokesman Samson Kwaje and Said el-Khatib for the government.

After the signing of the protocols, chief mediator retired general Lazaro Sumbeiywo declared: “I trust that the fire has totally ceased in Southern Sudan.”

SPLM/A leader John Garang and Sudan Vice President Ali Osman Taha also addressed the ceremony to the cheer of hundreds of Sudanese nationals, who thronged the Lake Naivasha’s Simba Lodge to witness the advent of peace for their country, torn by war since independence from British colonial rule in 1956.

“We pay tribute to the great people of Sudan by announcing that we have finished the assignment they gave us,” Taha said.

“We pledged that we will be at their service to implement what we have signed today,” he added.

“We promised the UN Security Council to sign an agreement before the end of the year and this is what we have done,” Garang also told the excited crowd.

“Tomorrow is Independence Day in Sudan; I want to take this opportunity to pass my greetings to the people of Sudan from Nimule to Juba to Khartoum,” Garang added.

The way was cleared on Thursday after Taha and John Garang clinched accords on a permanent ceasefire and on details of how the final peace agreement would be implemented.

The latest agreements overcome the last sticking points at marathon peace talks, which started in Kenya in early 2002.

The two sides pledged last month in writing before the UN Security Council to sign a final peace deal by year-end.

Since July 2002, both sides have managed to agree on protocols on granting the south the right to self-determination after six years of self-rule, power- and wealth-sharing, management of national security and administration of disputed regions in the centre of the country during the post-conflict interim period.