By MICHELLE FAUL
Associated Press Writer
AP Photo/GEORGE OSODI
ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) -- Sudan's government and the largest Darfur rebel group agreed Friday to sign a peace plan, a top U.S. envoy said, marking major progress in an internationally backed effort to end the death and destruction in western Sudan.
Two smaller rebel groups maintained their rejection of the treaty, but U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick indicated they could be bypassed. That assessment was bolstered when one of the two split Friday, with dissenters criticizing their leader for not embracing the proposed treaty.
"Today the largest group, Minni Minnawi's, has agreed to sign and the government of Sudan have agreed to sign as well," Zoellick told The Associated Press. "Not all the movements are in accord, but we're already getting phone calls that people with (rebel faction leader) Abdel Wahid (Nur) believe he has made a mistake."
Both the rebels and the government repeatedly have failed to live up to agreements struck over two years of negotiations in the Nigerian capital. A cease-fire they signed in 2004 is in tatters.
Government spokesman Abdulrahman Zuma was buoyant Friday.
"The deal is peace," he said. "I think that the victory today is for Sudan."
GOI: This is a step in the right direction. However, only time will show if this deal is going to be carried out or if the deal isn't worth the paper it is written upon. There have been deals before that have been broken so we shall see. I remain cautiously optimistic.