The South Sudanese government and rebels signed a ceasefire to end five weeks of fighting that killed as many as 10,000 people and was described by a senior UN official as “a horror.”
The warring parties agreed to halt fighting within 24 hours, in an accord signed on Thursday by the head of South Sudan’s negotiating team, Nhial Deng Nhial, and rebel-delegation leader Taban Deng Gai in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The signing was witnessed by officials including Seyoum Mesfin, head of an East African mediation team, and Chinese Ambassador to the African Union Xie Xiaoyan (解曉岩).
The signing is a “significant step forward,” Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said at the ceremony. “The two sides need to advance the implementation of these agreements through dialogue and reconciliation, and walk their talk for the sake of their people.”
Violence erupted on Dec. 15 after South Sudanese President Salva Kiir accused former South Sudanese deputy president Riek Machar, whom he fired in July, of trying to stage a coup, a charge Machar denies.
The dispute escalated into clashes between members of Kiir’s ethnic Dinka community and Machar’s Nuer group.
The death toll from the fighting is approaching 10,000, according to the International Crisis Group, while the UN says half a million people have been forced to flee their homes, almost 84,000 of them to neighboring countries.
The delegations signed two agreements, one covering the cessation of hostilities, and the other on the issue of 11 detainees who have been held without charge since the fighting started.
Mediators will now work to have the detainees released to participate in the next phase of talks that start on Feb. 7, Gai said in an interview.
“If the government is committed to peace, they have to release these comrades immediately, else we are not going to participate in the next coming process unless with the participation of these leaders,” he said.
The government will release the detainees “according to the laws of South Sudan,” though they will “not necessarily” be present for the next stage of talks, South Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuei said in an interview.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the seven-nation group that helped mediate the agreement, will lead an unarmed, Juba-based monitoring and verification team that will oversee the ceasefire, according to the accord.