In what a Norwegian diplomat involved in the negotiations said was "just the first and important of many steps to come" to end the bloody conflict that engulfed the world's youngest nation South Sudan, representatives of the government and the rebels have signed the cessation of hostilities agreement on Jan. 23rd here in Addis Ababa.
Facilitated and supervised by the regional bloc, The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the agreement demands both parties to "cease acts of violence including summary executions, displacement of populations, all forms of torture, destruction of property, attacking civilian aircrafts, vehicles or riverboats, recruitment of child soldiers or any other acts as prohibited by applicable national, continental and international instruments," acts that have marked the conflict in the last six weeks.
"This is what we have been waiting for; my country can't afford to go on like this for one more day," Taban Deng, head of the rebel delegation, told Addis Standard.
"It was important that the major bone of contention, which was the release of the 11 detainees, was resolved peacefully," Nhial Deng Nhial, chief government negotiator, told Addis Standard by a phone. He added that the rebels "should end" their quest for power "through violence" and abide by the agreement.
IGAD's Chief mediator Seyoum Mesfin, former foreign minister and Ethiopia's Ambassador to China, called the agreement an "important milestone." "It [the agreement] demonstrates that we are taking matters seriously," Ambassador Seyoum said.
The truce calls for the implementations of provisions included in the final draft within "24 hours." That includes the parties to create "conditions that enhance urgent supply of aid to all displaced populations," it also calls for "an enabling environment to facilitate decent burials of the dead and memorialization, support reunion of families, and any such acts that promote human dignity."
In a statement released during the signing ceremony, which came after hours of waiting and confusion, Alexander Rondos, the European Union's Special Representative for the Horn of Africa said, "There will be many hurdles" a sentiment echoed by many diplomats who came to witness the ceremony. "The next hiccup will be to deal with the issues of power sharing because this whole thing was about power," said one diplomat working for IGAD, "but let us not forget that we have worked so hard for this moment to arrive too," he told Addis Standard.
Since it first erupted on Dec. 15th the conflict in South Sudan between troops of President Salva Kiir and his sacked former deputy Reick Mechar has displaced more than half a million people and, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), has claimed the lives of some 10, 000 South Sudanese.