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S. Sudan warring parties sign ceasefire deal

(Agencies) Updated: 2014-01-24 08:34

ADDIS ABABA - The South Sudanese government and rebels signed a cease-fire agreement on Thursday to end weeks of fighting that has killed thousands and displaced half a million civilians.

The agreement was reached between the government led by President Salva Kiir and rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar after weeks of slow-moving negotiations in the Ethiopian capital.

The two sides have been in peace talks under the mediation of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis in South Sudan, which broke out in mid December 2013 after an alleged coup in the country.

Nhial Deng Nhial, chief negotiator of the South Sudanese government delegation, and Gen. Taban Deng Gai, head of the rebels' delegation, signed the agreement following direct negotiations that started on January 4.

"We all are here to witness the signing of agreements on the cessation of hostilities and a question of detainees by the South Sudanese parties who have been engaged in negotiations for the last three testing weeks," said Seyoum Mesfin, chief mediator of IGAD.

Seyoum stated that the signing of the agreement marks an important milestone in the IGAD-led mediation process in pursuit of a peaceful political solution to the crisis that has gripped South Sudan.

He said the crisis has caused a grave humanitarian crisis, claiming the lives of thousands of South Sudanese and displacing hundreds of thousands, not to mention the destruction of property at alarming proportions.

In terms of follow-up steps, Seyoum said that the mediation process will adjourn from January 24 to February 7 to give way for the set-up of various mechanisms, such as a Joint Technical Committee (JTC) and a Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM) that is provided for in the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.

Further consultations among IGAD envoys and shuttle diplomacy are also planned to take place before the commencement of the next phase of peace talks.

At the signing ceremony, the chief negotiators of both sides expressed their respective commitments to the agreement.

"Having now signed the agreements on the cessation of hostilities and the status of the detainees, we hope to be able to make haste towards an agreement that will end bloodshed and restore us to the path of democratic political life," said Nhial.

Nhial also expressed commitment to the implementation of the cease-fire deal.

"These two agreements are towards the ingredients to create a conducive environment for achieving a total peace in my country," said Taban, also pledging his side's commitment.

"This is critically important not only to give peace a chance in our country, but also to pave the way for a serious national political dialogue aiming at reaching a lasting peace in South Sudan," said Taban.

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