By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
January 23, 2014 (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.
- The leader of South Sudan’s government’s delegation, Nhial Deng Nhial (L), signs a ceasefire agreement aimed at ending conflict in the country following negotiations in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 23 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Birahnu Sebsibe)
Fighting between President Salva Kiir government army and forces loyal to former vice-president, Riek Machar, broke out in mid-December following what the former alleged was a coup attempt staged by Machar; 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 on accusations of having links to the failed coup attempt last month.
The rebel delegation, earlier Thursday, 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 United Nations Mission in South Sudan (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 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".
The breakthrough may have been hailed by regional mediators, but observers doubt whether the truce will end 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," Messay Kindaya, a regional political analyst told Sudan Tribune on Thursday.
“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, further stressing that 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 - the cessation of hostilities and release of political prisoners – signed Thursday 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.
US, UN WELCOME AGREEMENT
The US President Barrack Obama welcomed Thursday’s signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement in South Sudan, describing it as a critical first step toward building a lasting peace.
"Now, South Sudan’s leaders need to work to fully and immediately implement the agreement and start an inclusive political dialogue to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict", Obama said in a statement.
"The full participation of political detainees currently being held by the Government of South Sudan will be critical to those discussions, and we will continue to work to expedite their release", he added.
The US leader also lauded the constructive role played by the IGAD Authority and its partners in the region to advance these efforts, further pledging his full support for the peaceful resolution of the crisis the engulfed the new nation.
"In order to regain the trust of their people and the international community, South Sudan’s leaders must demonstrate their sustained commitment to a peaceful resolution of the crisis. They have an obligation to ensure that the lives of their people and future of their young country are not further marred by continued violence, and that individuals who have committed atrocities are held to account", said Obama.
Those working for a more peaceful, democratic, unified South Sudan will continue to have a steady partner in the United States of America, he added.
Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General also welcomed the agreement on cessation of hostilities, calling on the parties to immediately implement this agreement.
"The Secretary-General congratulates the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on the successful mediation of this agreement and underscores the necessity to continue without delay a national political dialogue to reach a comprehensive peace agreement, with the participation of all South Sudanese political and civil society representatives, including the SPLM detainees", partly reads a statement extended to Sudan Tribune.
The United Nations stands with the people of South Sudan and will continue to do everything within its means to protect civilians at risk and provide the necessary humanitarian assistance, it added.
The Secretary General, however, reiterated calls for all parties to ensure freedom of movement of UNMISS, humanitarian workers and human rights monitors, and welcomes the Government of South Sudan’s reassurances of its full support to the Mission and commitment to honour its Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).