By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
January 31, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) - The East African bloc, Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), who negotiated a ceasefire deal between the warring parties in South Sudan said on Friday that they will be dispatching their first team of observers to the conflict-affected member state over the weekend.
The decision to deploy monitors within the next 48 hours was made after leaders of IGAD member states held a meeting behind closed doors on Friday on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Ethiopia.
Regional mediators late on Friday confirmed to Sudan Tribune that a "joint technical committee" of 11 observers will head to Juba on Saturday.
The joint technical committee comprises members representing the South Sudanese government and the rebels, who refer to themselves as the SPLM/A in Opposition. The committee also comprises of representatives from Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, the African Union (AU) and the international community.
The monitoring team led by Ethiopia will assess the situation in the main flashpoint towns of Juba, Bor, Malakal and Bentiu and will return to Addis Ababa with a report in five days, before the second round of peace talks between the government and rebels resumes in the Ethiopian capital on February 7.
After the first team submits its report to IGAD and regional mediators, the main monitoring and verification team will head to South Sudan within a week.
Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin, IGAD’s chief mediator for the six-week-old South Sudan conflict urged the two warring parties to "respect and expeditiously" implement the cessation of hostilities agreement signed in Addis Ababa on 23 January.
The former Ethiopian foreign minister further called on the two sides to fully cooperate with the ceasefire monitoring team.
Citing reports of ceasefire violations by both sides Mesfin said there had largely been "much restraint and encouragement."
Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta called on South Sudan’s leaders to put the interests of the hundreds of thousands of people suffering by the violence above all other considerations.
Although the two warring factions signed a cease fire agreement a week ago the fighting has not stopped to allow humanitarian access and for some of the over half a million displaced people to return home. The International Crisis Group estimates that 10,000 people have died in the conflict, which began as a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and the deputy he sacked last year, Riek Machar.
After fighting broke out on December 15 in Juba the conflict quickly spread to Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states. Machar and his associates deny the government’s accusations that they were planning a coup against President Kiir.
After extensive international pressure the South Sudanese government has released seven of the 11 detainees it had held for over a month without charge in connection to the alleged coup. There have been further calls, including from Ethiopia, for the remaining four detainees to also be freed.
Responding to reports that he will be charged with treason for leading the rebellion, Machar has warned that such statements could damage future peace talks.
At the AU summit, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir today said unless the crisis in South Sudan is resolved quickly, Africa might witness another conflict like the decades of civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 after a 2005 peace deal ended over two decades of civil war. But since then the former the rebels have struggled to evolve into a national army and its political wing into a democratic ruling party.
Both sides in the conflict are accused of committing serious human rights violations.
The UN Mission in South Sudan in a statement on Thursday said it is investigating the crimes committed by both sides since fighting broke out in mid-December.
According to the statement, UN peacekeepers in South Sudan have conducted more than 300 patrols in the capital Juba and Jonglei state to collect evidence and document abuses.