KHARTOUM, Sudan -- The Sudanese government signed a peace deal Saturday with a group of rebels from eastern Sudan, ending a deadly strife that has been overshadowed by the conflict in the country's western Darfur region.
The Eastern Rebel Front has fought an intermittent war with the Sudanese government for 10 years. The signing of the agreement is considered a relief to Khartoum, which has been struggling to put down rebellions on both sides of the country, as well as to keep a shaky peace after a civil war with the south.
The conflict in Sudan's east bore some similarities to the more publicized strife in Darfur. In 2005, the U.N. World Food Program said the malnutrition rate in the east had grown worse than in Darfur.
On Saturday, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir reiterated his opposition to allowing U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.
The U.N. wants to send 20,000 U.N. troops to Darfur to replace an ill-equipped and understaffed African Union force that has not been able to quell the violence. More than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced since rebel groups rose up against the Khartoum government in early 2003.
Sudan "will never be the first African country to allow re-colonization of the continent to begin on its soil," al-Bashir said in the capital of neighboring Eritrea, Asmara, where the peace deal was signed. "But we are for a United Nations role that would provide logistical and material assistance to the African Union to carry out its role."
Al-Bashir and First Vice President Salva Kiir had traveled Eritrea to sign the deal with leaders of the Eastern Rebel Front under supervision of Eritrea's government.
Al-Bashir promised Saturday that all the money that was being spent on war will be paid for development.
The final peace deal was set to call for a cease-fire, the lifting of a state of emergency in Sudan's east and the deployment of Sudanese forces to the region, according to the official Sudanese news agency, SUNA.
Some $600 million also would be allocated to health and water programs in the area over the next five years, SUNA reported.
The Eastern Rebel Front has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on Sudan's infrastructure, including an oil pipeline, and has ambushed cargo convoys and passenger buses. It also has threatened a vital road linking Khartoum with the country's main seaport on the Red Sea in eastern Sudan.
Some Darfur rebels also have fought in the east, and Eritrea has a history of supporting both the eastern and western Darfurian rebels.