Sudanese government and major rebel group from its southern Nuba Mountains sign agreement which paves way for final peace accord by guaranteeing freedom of worship to all.
Sudan's government has signed an agreement with a rebel faction to guide future peace negotiations as the country's transitional leaders move to put an end to myriad internal conflicts.
The "declaration of principles" signed on Sunday with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) faction lays out priorities including the unification of armed forces and the establishment of a democratic, secular state with freedom of religion.
It was signed by Sudanese head of state General Abdel Fattah al Burhan and Abdelaziz al Hilu, head of the SPLM-N wing.
The group is based in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile in the country's south. The signing took place in South Sudanese capital Juba.
Talks to follow
"The next thing is the two parties will resume talks three weeks from now," mediation team official Ramadan Goch told AFP news agency.
"They are now going to organise their teams and prepare to resume the peace talks."
The transitional government in Khartoum, which includes soldiers and civilians installed after the 2019 overthrow of Omar al Bashir's 30-year rule, have made peace with the country's rebel groups a priority.
A historic agreement was signed in October with the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of rebel groups from the Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan regions.
A branch of the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdelwahid Nour in Darfur refused to sign.
Al-Hilu's SPLM-North signed a separate ceasefire, allowing its fighters to keep their weapons for "self-protection" until the Sudanese constitution is amended to guarantee separation of state and religion.
South Kordofan and to a lesser extent Blue Nile state have significant Christian populations who have fought for decades to end the imposition of Islamic law by Khartoum.
Aman Amum, the Secretary-General of SPLM-N told Reuters news agency on Sunday that reaching a consensus on the role of religion in Sudan's politics was a breakthrough that would now accelerate talks towards a final peace settlement.
Sudan had now "accepted the separation of religion from the state," Amum said.
It had been unclear whether Sudan's military would support any such moves.
Darfur rebel group
After Sunday's signing, only one rebel group –– a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) –– remains a major security challenge to the government in Khartoum.
Led by Abdel Wahed el Nur, SLA is active in Jebel Marra in Sudan's Darfur region.