JUBA, South Sudan – South Sudan’s warring parties on Wednesday agreed to a permanent cease-fire to take effect in 72 hours, as long-suffering citizens wondered whether this latest attempt at peace would fall apart as well.
South Sudan’s government confirmed the deal was signed after face-to-face talks between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar in Sudan. The discussions followed their meeting last week in Ethiopia that was their first in nearly two years.
The new agreement also calls for the opening of corridors for humanitarian aid, the release of prisoners and the withdrawal of forces. The African Union and East African regional bloc are asked to provide forces to oversee the cease-fire. South Sudan in the three years ahead also will prepare for elections.
Tens of thousands have been killed in South Sudan’s five-year civil war, which has created Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide and left millions near famine. Multiple attempts at peace deals have failed in the past, and the United States, the country’s top humanitarian donor, has grown increasingly frustrated.
The two sides expressed mixed emotions shortly after the agreement.
“This is the president signing, so everyone in the government will have to implement it,” said government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny. “We’re very happy with this deal.”
Expect a power-sharing agreement in the next couple of weeks, Ateny said.
Meanwhile, opposition spokesman Mabior Garang said there was no guarantee the cease-fire will work. “However, the involvement of the region is more serious now. We are cautiously optimistic.”
The latest cease-fire in December was violated within hours.
The new talks are being mediated by the East African regional bloc and key leaders, with Ethiopia’s new prime minister inviting Kiir and Machar to his country last week for the first round. South Sudan’s government emerged saying it was rejecting the idea of having Machar return as Kiir’s deputy under a power-sharing agreement.
The two sides, however, agreed to meet again this week in Sudan and are set to hold further talks in Kenya.
The U.S. sponsored a resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council early this month that threatens an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions against six people, including the country’s chief of defense, if fighting doesn’t stop and a political agreement reached.
The new U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, Thomas Hushek, told The Associated Press this week the U.S. is skeptical of the latest talks, saying that “if it’s just a repeat of the failed 2015 agreement (that returned Machar to his role as Kiir’s deputy) it’s not going to work.”
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