South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel commander Riek Machar have signed a deal that could pave the way to power-sharing, diplomatic sources said, edging closer to an end to a 15-month conflict that has ravaged the world’s newest country.
Under the deal, which the leaders signed shortly after midnight on Monday, Kiir would remain president in a new government while a vice president would be nominated from the rebal side, Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Addis Ababa, said.
The rebels, however, said many more details need to be ironed out before the deal can be labelled a “power-sharing” agreement.
“They are under a lot of pressure,” Soi said. They’re saying they’re commited to peace but there is still a lot of contention over power-sharing.”
Seyoum Mesfin, chief mediator of the East African IGAD bloc, said ahead of the signing ceremony in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa that the two leaders had agreed to resume talks on February 20.
“[Those talks] would be final and that would lead them into concluding a comprehensive agreement to end the crisis in South Sudan,” Mesfin said minutes before Kiir and Machar signed the latest peace deal.
The warring sides also agreed to abide by a ceasefire deal signed in January 2013 but frequently violated.
After signing the latest agreement, Machar, formerly Kiir’s vice president, said the two sides would hold more discussions on the functions of the provisional government.
“This is a partial agreement because we have not solved some of the most critical issues,” Machar said after the signing, citing disagreements on the “transitional government structure” to set up and divide responsibilities within the administration.
Few other details were revealed after the frantic late-night talks
Threat of sanctions
Regional diplomats had warned the warring sides that failure to come up with a new deal could see sanctions imposed on them.
Several previous peace deals and ceasefires that accompanied the agreements were swiftly broken.
The two sides need a transitional government in place by July, when Kiir’s presidential term runs out.
Rights groups have said both factions have been responsible for ethnic killings and other abuses, driving the nation to the brink of famine.
The fighting has largely pitted Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group against Machar’s Nuer group.
The conflict in Africa’s newest nation, and one of its poorest, erupted in December 2013 and has rumbled on since then despite several commitments by Kiir and Machar to halt the violence.
More than 10,000 people have been killed, about 1.5 million people have been driven from their homes and many in the oil-producing nation of about 11 million people are struggling to find enough food to eat.