March 28 (UPI) -- The Sudanese government and one of the country's rebel groups signed an agreement on Sunday to consolidate the sovereignty and independence of the country, paving the way toward a final peace agreement.
Signed in the neighboring South Sudan capital of Juba, the Declaration of Principles between Sudan's Transitional Sovereignty Council and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North also calls for religious freedom through recognizing the nation's racial, ethnic, religious and cultural diversity, the official Sudan News Agency reported.
"No religion shall be imposed on anyone and the state shall not adopt any official religion," the declaration states, the Sudan Tribune reported. "The state shall be impartial in terms of religious matters and matters of faith and conscience."
The agreement also calls for the formation of a professional army that will incorporate members of the SPLM-N.
David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, witnessed the signing between Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, chairman of the Transitional Sovereignty Council, and Abdelaziz Adam al-Hilu, chairman of the SPLM-N, stating it was "a great day, a day for peace."
"But peace is not made on paper. Peace is made in the heart," he said in a statement. "And these leaders have come together around the power of the heart. This spirit is the spirit that will carry forward South Sudan and Sudan to a great future for all the children will be blessed because the leaders this day are peacemakers."
The agreement follows the power-sharing Transitional Sovereignty Council government signing deals with several rebel groups to end long-fought conflicts last year after it came into power following the ousting of former longtime President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.
"Today, our country has achieved another milestone on the road to comprehensive peace and unity," Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said in a statement, congratulating those involved in the signing.
He added that the signing "is a courageous gesture and evidence of the solid will of all Sudanese" for peace following the Juba Agreement between the government and several main rebel groups in October of last year.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., tweeted he was "pleased" with the agreement, calling it a "significant breakthrough and progress toward peace."
Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it is ready and willing to assist with the next steps.
"This is what we can achieve when we work together for the people," Beasley said. "The sun is rising in Sudan!"