Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- South Sudan’s government and rebels were scheduled late yesterday to suspend a five-week conflict that has killed thousands of people and driven half a million from their homes.
The warring parties agreed to halt the fighting within 24 hours of a cease-fire accord mediated by East African nations, which they signed on Jan. 23 at about 8:30 p.m. local time in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. In the hours leading up to the deadline, the rebels said the government military attacked their positions in the states of Unity and Jonglei. A South Sudan army spokesman said he had no information about fighting.
“Significant as it is, the cessation of hostilities agreement is only one step,” Manoah Esipisu, spokesman for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, said in an e-mailed statement. “More difficult steps will follow in the coming days and months as the monitoring and verification of compliance with the agreement kicks in.”
Both sides were responsible for “mass atrocities,” United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said last week after a four-day visit to the country. The violence erupted in the world’s newest nation on Dec. 15 after President Salva Kiir accused former Vice President Riek Machar, whom he fired in July, of trying to stage a coup, a charge Machar denies. Clashes followed between members of Kiir’s ethnic Dinka community and Machar’s Nuer group.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 following a two-decade civil war with the north.
Both sides are to “redeploy and/or progressively withdraw” their own and allied forces from the “theater of operations,” according to the agreement.
Companies including China National Petroleum Corp. and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. have evacuated employees from South Sudan because of the violence. The country has sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to BP Plc data.
New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the army of carrying out “widespread killings” of Nuer men in the capital, Juba, including a massacre of as many as 300 on Dec. 16.
Forces loyal to Machar killed Dinka civilians in other parts of the country, it said.
The delegations in Addis Ababa signed two agreements, one covering the cessation of hostilities, and the other on the issue of 11 detainees who have been held without charge since the fighting started. The arrested politicians include Pagan Amum, the former secretary-general of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and ex-Cabinet Affairs Minister Deng Alor.
The rebels previously demanded that the arrested politicians be freed before they would sign a cease-fire. Mediators will now work to have the detainees released to participate in the next phase of talks starting Feb. 7, the head of the rebel delegation, Taban Deng Gai, said in an interview.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the seven-nation regional group that helped mediate the agreement, will lead an unarmed, Juba-based monitoring and verification team that will oversee the cease-fire.
The agreements make no specific reference to the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from South Sudan, one of the key rebel demands before the signing. The two sides agreed that “all forces should withdraw from theaters of operation, where there is physical fighting,” Makuei said.
Uganda’s military says it has about 1,600 soldiers in South Sudan. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said the forces were deployed to support South Sudanese government troops.
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