South Sudan Rebels, Government to Sign Cease-Fire Agreement

South Sudan’s government and rebel forces may sign a cease-fire accord today that includes an agreement for Ugandan troops to withdraw from the country.

Opposition forces are preparing to sign a deal in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, rebel spokesman Mabior Garang said in a phone interview today from the city where the the seven-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development is mediating talks between the two sides. The agreement will be signed at 5 p.m., IGAD said in an e-mailed invitation to the ceremony.

The accord excludes the rebels’ earlier demand for the “immediate release” of 11 detainees held without charge since violence erupted in the country on Dec. 15, Garang said. “We’re not putting it as a pre-condition, we’re ready to sign whatever IGAD tells us to sign and that doesn’t include immediate release.”

Fighting broke out in South Sudan after President Salva Kiir accused former Vice President Riek Machar of trying to stage a coup, a charge Machar denies. The dispute escalated into clashes between members of Kiir’s ethnic Dinka community and Machar’s Nuer group. The death toll in the conflict is approaching 10,000, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, while the United Nations says half a million people have fled their homes.

Ugandan Redeployment

Ugandan forces who arrived in the country last month “should start redeploying with immediate effect within 24 hours,” Garang said. The troops helped South Sudanese forces recapture territory seized by the rebels, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said on Jan. 15.

There’s “no commitment” in the agreement for the government to take action on the detainees, Garang said. Rebels instead expect IGAD and the international community to secure the release of the “wrongly incarcerated” prisoners, who would decide on their release whether to join Machar’s rebellion, he said. “If the government doesn’t release them we will cross that bridge when we get there,” Garang said.

South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to BP Plc data. Since gaining independence in July 2011, it’s been exporting its crude through pipelines across Sudan. The violence has halted most of South Sudan’s oil production, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month.

Companies including China National Petroleum Corp. and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. have evacuated employees from the country.

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