A peace deal has been reached between the Central African Republic government and 14 armed groups after their first-ever direct dialogue aimed at ending years of conflict, the United Nations and African Union have announced.
The talks began on January 24 in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.
The agreement represents rare hope for the impoverished, landlocked nation where inter-religious and inter-communal fighting has continued since 2013.
Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in a conflict that has sent at least two people to the International Criminal Court.
"This is a great day for Central African Republic and all its people," said the AU commissioner for peace and security, Smail Chergui.
The fighting in Central African Republic has carried the high risk of genocide, the UN has warned.
Scores of mosques have been burned, priests and other religious leaders have been killed and many Muslims have fled the country.
After more than 40 people were killed in a rebel attack on a displaced persons camp in November, both the leader of the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission and the country’s prime minister both acknowledged shortcomings in the response.
"I knew that we did not have all the necessary means to protect our people," the prime minister said.
The fighting began in 2013 when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the capital, Bangui.
Violence intensified and spread last year after a period of relative peace as armed groups battle over lands rich in gold, diamonds and uranium.
In a report last year marking five years of the conflict, the UN children’s agency said fighters often target civilians rather than each other, attacking health facilities and schools, mosques and churches and camps for displaced people.
At least half of the more than 640,000 people displaced are children, it said, and thousands are thought to have joined the armed groups, often under pressure.
As the peace talks began, the Norwegian Refugee Council warned of "catastrophe" if no agreement was reached, saying repeated cycles of violence in one of the world’s poorest nations had "pushed people’s resistance to breaking point".
A majority of Central African Republic’s 2.9 million people urgently need humanitarian support, the group said.