In ancient times the stretch of desert along the Nile drew Negroid people from the south and Caucasoids from the north. Based at Meroe, Nubian civilization reached its zenith in the third and second centuries BC. Sudan became an Anglo- Egyptian condominium in 1899 and gained its independence in 1956. It has been plagued since by ethnic and religious strife between the Arab Muslim rulers and largely black Christian population in Darfur region. In 2004 the United Nations focused on what the US termed genocide in Darfur. International pressure led to peace talks between the Khartoum government and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLMA). In July 2005 the joint appearance in Khartoum of rebel leader John Garang as Vice President of Sudan's new Government of National Unity, and Omer Hassan Al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, seemed to herald an end to the war. Hopes were dashed when Garang died a few weeks later in a helicopter crash on his way back from a visit to Uganda. Riots broke out and hostilities between the SPLA and the government forces resumed, continuing a battle that took nearly two million lives and left millions displaced.