Addis Ababa — South Sudan's government and rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM in Opposition) on Thursday signed a ceasefire agreement in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to end over a month-old fighting in the world's youngest nation.
Fighting between President Salva Kiir government Army and forces loyal to former vice-president, Riek Machar, broke out in mid-December following what Kiir alleged was a coup attempt staged by his former deputy, an allegation the latter denies.
The agreement on cessation of hostilities reached Thursday comes after South Sudan's government agreed to release the 11 pro-Machar political figures who remain detained in accusation of links to the failed coup attempt last month.
The rebel delegation earlier today said it had dropped a precondition on releasing the detainees.
The rebels in the past weeks demanded for the release of the political detainees before any peace deal is signed, a demand which had been a major setback from reaching a speedy peace deal between the two rivals since negotiations brokered by the East African regional bloc, IGAD began earlier this month.
The deal also provides that the warring parties will "redeploy and/or progressively withdraw armed groups and allied forces invited by either side from the theatre of operation".
The term "allied forces" is referring to the Ugandan army which raised concern among the other IGAD members particularly those involved in the mediation process.
The agreement also provides that the monitoring and verification mechanism will decide the lifting of the state of emergency, another matter the rebel contested.
The Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM) will be formed by the IGAD mediators in consultation with the two parties. The UNMISS is expected to be deployed between the two parties and tasked with the monitoring of the truce.
The chief mediator Seyoum Mesfin, in a statement released after the signing ceremony, said that the mediation will adjourn from the 24th January to the 7th of February to give way for the set up of the various mechanisms such a Joint Technical Committee and MVM provided in the signed deal.
The cessation of hostilities pact, which was signed late on Thursday between head of President Salva Kiir's delegation, Nhial Deng Nhial, and that of Machar's, Taban Deng Gai, obliges both sides to halt fire within the next 24 hours which will thereby allow an access to humanitarian aid.
IGAD mediators, Ethiopian officials, diplomats and other dignitaries witnessed the signing ceremony here at the venue of talks in Addis Ababa.
Regarding the political detainees, Mesfin told reporters that the 11 SPLM figures who support Machar will take part in the peace talks stressing that first they must face due legal processes.
In line with the signed agreement, the two parties "acknowledge the role that the detainees can play in the ongoing dialogue".
Although the breakthrough was hailed by regional mediators however observers doubt that the signing the truce doesn't necessarily guarantee an end to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese.
"The ceasefire agreement is only a temporary solution; any of the two sides could break the deal any day soon as they have other issues" A regional political analyst, Messay Kindaya told Sudan Tribune.
"The case in South Sudan is an obvious struggle for power between Kiir and Machar. I doubt the ceasefire agreement would last long," he added.
He added achieving durable political solution to the crises in South Sudan would be a huge challenge ahead.
Taban Deng, chief of the rebel delegation said the two agreements -cessation of hostility and release of political prisoners - signed today were key elements to pave a way for durable peace in South Sudan.
According to the UN, thousands of South Sudanese have lost their lives and an estimated half-a-million of people have been forced to flee their homes after weeks of violence in South Sudan.
UN & US WELCOME THE DEAL
The cessation of hostilities was welcomed by the U.S. State Department and the UN chief have welcomed the signing of a cessation of hostilities between the Government of South Sudan and the SPLM in Opposition, expressing hope that this step will pave the way for a ,negotiated settlement of the one-month conflict.
"We call on all of South Sudan's leaders to honour their commitments to the people of South Sudan by working quickly and earnestly toward an inclusive and comprehensive political dialogue," said State Department deputy-department spokesperson Marie Harf, on Thursday.
She further said that Washington with the IGAD and "other friends of South Sudan will continue our efforts to expedite the release of the detainees and ensure their meaningful participation in a political dialogue".
State Department Deputy Department Spokesperson, Marie Harf, said the agreement was a critical first step toward building a lasting peace in South Sudan, but was only the beginning of a much longer process to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict, to foster reconciliation, and to hold accountable those who committed horrific abuses against the South Sudanese people.
The American diplomat emphasised the need to ensure that humanitarian assistance can reach the hundreds of thousands of people affected by this conflict.
Speaking at a World Food Programme Event in Davos on his Zero Hunger Challenge initiative, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said optimistic by the signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement by the two South Sudanese parties.
"I was very much encouraged while entering this tent that there was good news," he said alluding to the truce signed in Addis Ababa.
"I sincerely hope this peace deal will also provide good opportunities for South Sudanese, and the people around this country who have been suffering, through this United Nations initiative Zero Hunger Challenge or MDGs so that they can devote their time and energy and resources more on delivering to the people," he further said.