The South Sudanese government has signed a peace agreement with a rebel group in Jonglei state, ending nearly three years of the rebellion that has left hundreds of people dead.
The deal with the South Sudan Democratic Movement was agreed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where South Sudan signed a ceasefire with rebels who took up arms after soldiers loyal to the president, Salva Kiir, clashed with those backing his former vice president, Riek Machar, in what the government dubbed a coup.
The ceasefire could help restore peace in Jonglei, which is Machar’s home state and where some of his ethnic Nuer had taken up arms after the December 15 deadly clashes in the capital Juba.
“The parties have reaffirmed their commitment to the ceasefire declaration unilaterally announced by the government of the Republic of South Sudan on January 6, 2014 and duly accepted by SSDM/A Cobra Faction on January 7, 2014,” the agreement read.
SSDM, whose military wing is called Cobra Faction, is led by David Yau Yau, who launched an armed rebellion against the government after losing an election in 2010 as an independent candidate for a seat in the Jonglei state assembly.
The peace accord says the supervision and monitoring of the implementation of the agreement will be carried out by the Church Leaders Mediation Initiative, which was instrumental in bringing the two sides to a negotiating table.
Meanwhile, top diplomats warned on Friday that monitors of South Sudan’s fragile ceasefire must deploy immediately, as regional leaders met to bolster peace efforts for the war-torn young nation.
Clashes continue despite the deal signed last week by government and rebels, brokered by the East African bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
The authority’s teams are meant to ensure the warring sides honour their deal, but many fear the unarmed observers will struggle to monitor loose frontlines between multiple forces in a vast country with few roads.
Leaders of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan met on the sidelines of the final day of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, where the bloodshed in South Sudan has been a key focus.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn warned on Thursday South Sudan faced “falling into the abyss” without urgent action.
IGAD special envoy Seyoum Mesfin urged leaders to set up ceasefire monitoring teams within 48 hours, and called on rival sides to ensure a “progressive withdrawal” of forces from frontlines.
Both UN special envoy Haile Menkerios and US special envoy Donald Booth said it was “critical” monitoring teams be put swiftly in place to report on any violations, including by foreign forces.
Teams must be “provided with the necessary political and logistical support as well as unfettered access,” Haile said.
Both government and rebels accused each other of violating the deal but insist they are committed to ending a bloodshed in which thousands have killed and more than 800,000 forced from their homes.
“Those who might seek to undermine the peace process should know that we are all watching, and that there will be consequences for such would-be spoilers,” Booth added.