BY AGENCIES *
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed a peace agreement on Wednesday in the margins of a regional summit in Ethiopia.
South Sudan plunged into warfare two years after gaining independence from Sudan in 2011 when a political dispute between Kiir and Machar exploded into military confrontation.
A previous peace deal signed in 2015 fell apart a year later after clashes broke out between government forces and rebels, forcing Machar to leave Juba.
The new agreement, mediated by Sudan, reinstates Machar, a former vice-president, to his former role.
The presidents of Uganda and Sudan were present at the summit that was chaired by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
“The eyes of the world are upon us as the South Sudan leaders commit today to press for reconciliation and lasting peace in their country,” Abiy said at the start of a brief but delayed closed door meeting after which Kiir and Machar emerged to sign the document.
“Today we hope to begin a new chapter and a new opportunity to build a lasting peace and stability in the Republic of South Sudan,” said Festus Mogae, a former president of Botswana who leads a ceasefire monitoring body set up by the regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) that has brokered successive rounds of talks.
David Shearer, head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, echoed the hopes of ending the nearly five-year-old conflict that has cost the lives of tens of thousands of people, pushed millions to the brink of starvation and triggered a regional refugee crisis.
But he sounded a note of caution, saying, “With the signing of this revitalized agreement, we should publicly acknowledge it is but one step on the road to peace, but one which lays the foundation for all that follows.”
The United States, Britain, and Norway, known as the Troika which oversees peace efforts, welcomed the signature of the deal by Kiir, Machar and other groups.
“We hope discussions will remain open to those who are not yet convinced of the sustainability of this agreement,” they said in a statement. “We must seize this broader regional momentum to secure peace for the people of South Sudan.”