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Ceasefire agreed in bloody South Sudan conflict

The United Nations has said it is investigating widespread reports of atrocities and war crimes, including massacres, gang rapes and summary executions.

A South Sudanese government soldier stands guard as a delegation of visiting officials leaves from the airport in Malakal, Upper Nile State, in South Sudan
A South Sudanese government soldier stands guard as a delegation of visiting officials leaves from the airport in Malakal, Upper Nile State, in South Sudan
Image: AP Photo/Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin

SOUTH SUDAN’S GOVERNMENT and rebels have signed a ceasefire agreement, pledging to halt fighting within 24 hours and end five weeks of bitter conflict that has left thousands dead.

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 will put in place a verification and monitoring mechanism for the truce.

South Sudan’s government also agreed to release 11 officials close to Machar who were detained after fighting between rival army units broke out on December 15, although no timeline for their release was given. The status of the detainees had 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 which only won independence from Khartoum in 2011.

Government negotiator Nhial Deng Nhial said the negotiations, which have been dragging on in a luxury hotel in Addis Ababa for three weeks, were “not easy”.

“We hope to be able to make haste towards an agreement that will end bloodshed,” he said, but voiced scepticism over the ability of the rebels, comprised of renegade army units and ethnic militia, to halt their operations.

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“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.”

- © AFP, 2014

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