South Sudan President Salva Kiir offered amnesty to all those involved in the nation’s bloody five-year civil war as part of a recent agreement to end the fighting.
Rebel leader Riek Machar was among those granted a pardon by Kiir.
Those who “waged war against in the government” were granted a general amnesty, Kiir stated late Wednesday.
The president also reiterated a call for his forces to observe a ceasefire agreed in June by both the government and Machar’s rebels.
The decision came days after the warring parties struck a power-sharing agreement to end the civil war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.
The deal gives the parties eight months to form a transitional government. The agreement was one of many signed over the past few years that have failed.
South Sudan’s war began after Kiir accused his then-vice president, Machar, of plotting a coup against him in 2013.
Sunday’s power-sharing agreement paves the way for Machar to return to South Sudan as one of five vice-presidents under Kiir. He was freed this year from house arrest in South Africa, where he had been held since fleeing South Sudan in 2016.
Lam Paul Gabriel, the rebel SPLM-IO’s deputy military spokesman, said the amnesty will only be genuine once Kiir observes all the conditions agreed upon in the deal.
“Machar can only come to Juba after the pre-interim period when the unified forces are deployed in Juba and other major towns in South Sudan,” he said.
Majak Daniel, a Juba-based journalist, told Reuters news agency the amnesty will reassure the rebels about their safety.
“It will now give Machar much confidence, including others [who are] estranged a genuine reason to return to the country without the fear,” Daniel said.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch called on Thursday for the release of a number of government critics jailed by the intelligence services, including Peter Biar Ajak, a prominent economist who has criticised both sides in the war.
“South Sudanese authorities should release everyone being held arbitrarily and change the way the national security agency operates,” Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at the New York-based rights organisation said in a statement.
Biar, a country director for the London School of Economics’ International Growth Centre and a former World Bank economist, was arrested by officers of the agency in July.
A final peace accord must now be signed – under the auspices of a regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development – followed by the formation of a transitional government that will hold power for three years until elections can be organised.