, ADDIS ABABA, Jan 23 – South Sudan’s government and rebels on Thursday signed a ceasefire agreement, pledging to halt fighting within 24 hours and end more than a month of intense fighting, an AFP correspondent witnessed.
The agreement was signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa by representatives of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel delegates loyal to ousted vice president Riek Machar, and was greeted by cheers from regional mediators and diplomats.
Mediators from the East African regional bloc IGAD, which has been brokering the peace talks, said the deal also includes a verification and monitoring mechanism for the ceasefire.
South Sudan’s government also agreed to release 11 officials close to Machar who were detained after fighting broke out on December 15, although no timeline for their release was given. The status of the detainees has been a major sticking point in the talks.
“These two agreements are the ingredients to create an environment for achieving a total peace in my country,” said Taban Deng, head of the rebel delegation.
He said he hoped the deal would “pave the way for a serious national political dialogue aiming at reaching a lasting peace in South Sudan,” the world’s newest nation.
Government negotiator Nhial Deng Nhial said the negotiations were “not easy”.
“We hope to be able to make haste towards an agreement that will end bloodshed,” he said.
“What worries us is whether the agreement on the cessation of hostilities will stick (and) the capacity of the rebel group to stop fighting,” he added. “We would like to take this opportunity to urge the rebel group to heed the voice of reason and abandon the quest for political power through violence.”
The world’s newest nation has been at war since December 15, with thousands killed, close to half a million forced to flee their homes and atrocities allegedly committed by both sides.