South Sudan’s government and rebel groups signed a new ceasefire at a meeting led by the Inter-government Authority on Development (IGAD) at Addis Ababa on Thursday in an attempt to end a four-year civil war.
A 2015 peace deal collapsed last year after heavy fighting broke out in South Sudan’s capital Juba.
A decision by President Salva Kiir to sack his deputy, Riek Machar, triggered the war in the world’s youngest country.
The war has been fought largely along ethnic lines between forces loyal to Kiir Dinka, and Machar Nuer.
Tens of thousands have died and a third of the population of 12 million have fled their homes. The conflict has since mutated from a two-way fight into one involving multiple parties and this has made it harder to find peace.
Representatives of Messrs. Kiir and Machar were both present at the signing.
The cease-fire is set to come into force at 1 a.m, South Sudan local time on December 24th, or Christmas Eve, a report on Voice of America indicates.
“The milestone achieved during this week could not be possible without the constructive engagement, goodwill and support of the South Sudanese delegates,” Ismail Wais, South Sudan IGAD special envoy was quoted as saying.
South Sudanese stakeholders, representatives of the government of South Sudan, opposition parties, armed and unarmed groups, civil society groups, eminent persons, business, women and youth had been meeting at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa since December 18 to revive the collapsed South Sudan 2015 peace deal.
The head of the African Union, Musa Mohamed, cautioned the South Sudanese leaders to live up to the pledges they had made during the negotiations of a cease-fire agreement.
“The real test of the seriousness of your commitment would reside in the practical actions that you would take to implement the terms of this agreement. Practical action to stop the fighting, offensive and counter offensive, that killed so many innocent civilians, bereaved so many families and cause so much damage,” Mohamed said.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Workneh Gebeyehu, who is also the chairman of the IGAD’s council of ministers, warned the South Sudanese to stop the fighting in their country. He called the deal as “a gift to South Sudanese people to celebrate their Christmas and New Year. This is the most precious gift of all time.”
“I must emphasise that we will continue to follow up and single out spoilers to be named and shamed and take action necessary against them,” Gebeyehu warned.
Gebeyehu assured the South Sudanese that his country will ensure that the efforts of IGAD’s seven member countries to bring peace in South Sudan are not undermined by individuals or the warring groups.
The United States called the deal “the last chance for the implementation of the peace process.” Past attempts at peace deals have stumbled amid renewed violence. The new deal is an effort to salvage the 2015 peace agreement.
The agreement also calls on the warring sides to release prisoners of war, political prisoners and abducted women and children, who have been victims of widespread sexual violence and recruitment as child soldiers.
The United Nations, UN, and others have warned South Sudan against ethnic violence and other abuses.