South Sudan: Ceasefire Agreed, Talks Begin, But Fighting Continues

(Photo: Voice of America) Addis Ababa

Members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) confirmed Tuesday that South Sudan rivals have agreed on an immediate ceasefire, despite continued fighting in many parts of the country.

The agreement was reached few hours before Tuesday’s deadline for both sides to cease hostilities as agreed by regional leaders at Friday’s summit held in Nairobi, Kenya.

“President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Dr. Riek Machar agree on a cessation of hostilities and appoint negotiators to develop a monitored and implemented ceasefire,” IGAD said in a statement, which gave no details on when the ceasefire takes effect.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, on Tuesday confirmed representatives of President Kiir and rebel leader Machar would arrive in Addis Ababa on Wednesday for peace talks.

“The two sides are expected to reach an agreement on the cessation of hostilities and peaceful resolution of the current political crisis”, Ethiopian Foreign Affairs ministry said in a statement.

Machar and the Ethiopian Prime Minister also held phone discussion during the former reportedly agreed to send a team of negotiators to Addis Ababa for talks.

“Dr. Tedros held phone conversation with Dr.Riek Machar and urged him to discuss with other political figures allied to him and reach in to a decision to start negotiation in accordance with IGAD’s Extraordinary Summit Decision”, stressed the Foreign Affairs ministry statement.

The talks between the two sides are based on a peace proposal prepared by IGAD. However, cessation of hostilities, opening humanitarian corridors, the issue of political prisoners, and protection of civilians are likely to form the main agenda during the talks.

It is not clear if sharing power would be on the table for discussion as viable solution to the crises, especially after President Kiir ruled out that possibility.

The rebels, however, continue to attack parts of the country with forces loyal to Machar claiming the recapture of the strategic key town of Bor on Tuesday.

According to the UN, over 1,000 lives have lost since the violence erupted in mid December and some 200,000 people have been displaced.

IGAD has been striving to broker the two warring parties in an effort to avert a civil war as the conflict spreads to other regions of the country. On Monday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni warned rebel leaders to agree to a ceasefire or face defeat.

“We gave him [Machar] four days and [agreed that] if he doesn’t [comply with the agreement], then we shall have to go for him. That is what we agreed on”, Museveni told reporters in Juba.

Museveni, a close ally of Kiir, also admitted that he sent Ugandan troops to “help restore hope” in South Sudan, confirming his military’s involvement in the conflict.

He did not, however, elaborate on how the region intends to defeat a rebellion, which has quickly spread to the country’s key towns.

But Machar’s group, in a statement, warned that any aggression from the Ugandan army could compromise IGAD’s attempt to broker a peace deal between the conflicting parties.

East African leaders say the conflict in South Sudan is a threat to the stability of the region and the current political crises needs an urgent solution.