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South Sudan rivals vow to respect cessation of hostilities agreement

January 23, 2014 (JUBA) - The waring parties in South Sudan have pledged their readiness to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement signed Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Wednesday raising hopes that the deal could pave the way for the political aspects and root causes of the conflict to be resolved.

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FILE PHOTO - South Sudan Minister of Information, Barnaba Marial Benjamin speaks to journalists in Nairobi, Kenya, Monday, April 2, 2012 (AP)

"The signing of the cessation of hostilities demonstrates commitment of the government to end this senseless conflict. It is a clear demonstration of commitment of the government to resolving political differences through peaceful dialogue", South Sudan’s foreign minister", Barnaba Marial Benjamin told Sudan Tribune on Thursday.

Minister Benjamin, a close ally of President Kiir, expressed the government’s readiness to respect the agreement to ensure that peace prevails in the world’s youngest nation.

"The signing of the ceasefire is itself a commitment that the government will respect it. There should be doubt on our side", Benjamin said.

The lead negotiator of the South Sudanese government’s delegation to the talks in the Ethiopian capital, Nhial Deng Nhial, told Sudan Tribune that it was "not easy" bridging the differences between the two sides.

"We hope the cessation of hostilities will accelerate the process to end the bloodshed in the country. We hope the other side reciprocate and demonstrate the will and listen to voices reason who calling for peace to prevail in the country”, Nhial told Sudan Tribune, shortly after the signing of the deal.

The United Nations says that over half a million people have been displaced since the conflict began on December 15. Around 10,000 people have died according to estimates from the International Crisis Group think tank.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, said on Thursday that he was "very much encouraged" by the "good news" that the peace agreement had been signed after weeks of delays.

Signing the deal was delayed for several weeks over rebel demands that eleven political detainees, all of whom are senior members of the ruling party - the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) - are released.

Yien Mathew Chol, assistant spokesperson for the rebels, described as the SPLM/A in Opposition in cessation of hostilities agreement signed on Thursday, expressed hope that the deal would end the bloodshed, pledging the readiness of the group to respecting the agreement.

"On our side, we will try to do the best within our capacity and power to respect and implement it if the other side show significant commitment", Chol told Sudan Tribune without elaborating.

Under the deal, the rivals among others, agreed to cease all military engagements that may undermine the peace process as well as commit themselves to immediately cease all military operations and freeze their forces in current positions.

The parties further agreed to "refrain from taking any actions that could lead to military confrontations including all movement of forces, ammunition resupply, or any other action that could be viewed as confrontational; ensure that all forces or armed groups under their influence, control or/and command shall observe this Agreement; and disengage forces or armed groups under their control; redeploy and/or progressively withdraw armed groups and allied forces invited by either side from the theater of operation."

The deal also allow eleven senior officials of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation detained after fighting broke out on December 15, to be released.

But it remains unclear when they would be released as the agreement did not indicate timelines.

The status of the detainees and the presence of Ugandan troops, who have been fighting alongside the South Sudanese army (SPLA), was one of the contentious issues since during negotiations began in early January.

Lual Bol Kuan, spokesperson for South Sudanese business community said President Kiir had demonstrated commitment to bringing peace and stability in the country.

"I never doubted that this conflict would be resolved because President Salva Kiir had always demonstrated his commitment and desire to keeping the country in peace and united. He has been doing this since ascending to the helm of leadership in 2005", Kuan explained.

When Kiir became the Chairman of the SPLM in 2005 he appointed Riek Machar, who is now leading the rebellion, as his deputy. But since South Sudan’s independence in 2011 Machar has become increasingly critical of the government’s performance and openly put himself forward to replace Kiir as the party leader and therefore the person most likely to become president in elections due for 2015.

Kiir sacked Machar and his whole cabinet in July last year, a move with culminated in many disgruntled senior members of the party, who at the beginning of December held a press conference to describe Kiir’s leadership as "increasingly dictatorial".

When the issues raised by this group were not discussed a high-level meeting on December 15 tensions increased further and that evening fighting broke out in Juba between forces loyal to Kiir and those who backed Machar.

Machar has dismissed clears claims that the fighting amounted to a coup attempt but consequently assumed leadership of rebellions from the army in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states.

Both sides have been accused of mass human rights violations, by groups such as Human Rights Watch. It is unclear whether Machar will be able to persuade the ethnic militias aligned to him- most notably the White Army - to cease hostilities and abide by the deal.

(ST)

The signed documents from the talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, between the government of the Republic of South Sudan (GRSS) and the (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army In Opposition) (SPLM/A in Opposition).

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The signed agreement on political detainees
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The signed cessation of hostilities agreement