Addis Ababa — The government of South Sudan and the opposition signed two agreements Thursday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The first concerns an immediate cessation of military actions and a second deals with the release of 11 political detainees that have been imprisoned since the start of the conflict in mid-December.
The peace talks led by the East African Bloc IGAD started early last month. Lead IGAD mediator Seyoum Mesfin says several steps need to be taken by both parties now that they have signed the agreements.
"One, implement any agreements that they signed, in good faith and with full commitment. Two, begin the work towards rehabilitation and support to the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees. Three, we must soon continue with political dialogue and work towards an all-inclusive national reconciliation," said Mesfin.
The cease-fire agreement calls for the government and opposition forces to stay where they are. Ugandan troops supporting the government in South Sudan will have to leave all "theater of operations" within 24 hours.
The agreement on the question of the 11 detainees did not outline when they will be released.
No friendly words were spoken between the government of South Sudan and the opposition during the signing ceremony.
Lead government negotiator Nhial Deng Nhial blamed the opposition for asking for preconditions, such as the release of the detainees. He also said he is concerned about opposition fighters.
"What really worries us, in terms of whether the agreement of cessation of hostilities will stick or not, is the capacity of the rebel group. Given that the bulk of the rebel army is made up of civilians who are not subject to military discipline, orders to stop fighting may not be obeyed. This will certainly make a mockery of the agreement. We therefore urge IGAD and the broader international community to pay special attention to this problem," said Nhial.
Lead opposition negotiator Taban Deng Gai says the opposition did not initiate the violence.
"Our core goal has always been reforms, democratization of the political process within the SPLM party and peaceful transfer of power," said Gai.
Fighting in South Sudan broke out in mid-December between backers of President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar.
IGAD mediator Seyoum warned both parties the post-war challenges will be greater than the war itself:
"Agreements and peace deals signed in good faith are many, but those successfully implemented are fewer, far fewer. Equally, such sentiments may only provide a temporarily reprieve before violence escalates again. We do not want this to be the case in South Sudan," said Seyoum.
The next phase of the peace process between the South Sudanese government and the opposition is expected to start on February 7. These political negotiations should include the participation of the 11 detainees.
The White House hailed word on a agreement. Spokesman Jay Carney said it was "a first critical step in ending the violence."
"The United States urges both sides to build on this momentum by moving swiftly to an inclusive poetical dialogue to resolve the underlying causes of the current conflict. The U.S. will remain a steady partner to those who choose the path of peace and continue to work for a more peaceful, democratic, unified South Sudan," said Carney.