GORONGOSA NATIONAL PARK, Mozambique -- Mozambique's president signed a peace accord Thursday with the country's main opposition party Renamo to end decades of hostilities that followed a devastating 15-year civil war that killed an estimated 1 million people.
The ceremony, held in a national wildlife park that was a rebel stronghold and a center of the conflict, brought hope for a new era of peace and economic growth in one of the world's poorest countries, where an estimated 70% of the population lives on less than $2 per day.
It came as more than 5,200 of the former rebel group's fighters were disarming just weeks before a visit by Pope Francis and a national election that will test the resolve of the two parties to sustain the peace.
"We are living in a moment of hope. This is the moment of our reconciliation," President Filipe Nyusi told a cheering, ululating crowd in Gorongosa National Park, which he said was chosen for the signing because it was where the conflict began and would now be a "sanctuary of peace and biodiversity."
Renamo leader Ossufo Momade also pledged that the warring sides had put aside their hostilities.
"We are now brothers in peace," he declared. "With this signing we are showing all Mozambicans and the world that we have buried our legacy of violence and now we are committed to dialogue to resolve our differences."
The permanent cease-fire was the culmination of years of negotiations to end the fighting that has flared sporadically in the 27 years since the civil war ended in 1992.
After signing the accord, Nyusi and Momade shook hands and embraced at the foot of Mount Gorongosa, where the rebels maintained their military headquarters. Some 800 of the disarming fighters were to live in a tented demobilization camp next to the wildlife park.
The accord is to be followed by another agreement to be signed Tuesday in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, pledging peaceful national elections in October. Previous elections have been marred by violence and Renamo allegations that the ruling Frelimo party rigged the results.
Renamo, which is the Portuguese acronym for National Resistance of Mozambique, fought the bloody civil war with backing from the white-minority regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia.
When the war ended in 1992 it became an opposition party but never fully disarmed.