South Sudan: government and rebels sign peace deal

Welcomed as 'critical first step' to peace, but critics warn of 'unpredictable' future

LAST UPDATED AT 13:38 ON Fri 24 Jan 2014

A PEACE deal between South Sudan's government and the rebels who oppose it has brought an end to five weeks of bloody violence in Africa's newest state. 

The ceasefire was agreed by representatives of President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, the rebel leader and former vice president. 

The fighting, which was sparked by political tensions, soon descended into ethnic clashes between the Nuer and Dinka communities which left thousands dead.

The peace talks began in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, almost three weeks ago following intense pressure from regional and international powers, and the pact is expected to be implemented within 24 hours, mediators said.

Conditions of the deal include a monitored end to violence on both sides, the release of political prisoners from both sides, held in the capital Juba, and a timetable for the withdrawal of UN forces from the country.

The agreement will also give unrestricted access to aid workers attempting to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and more than half a million people have fled their homes due to the violence.

The signing of the agreement has been welcomed by international observers with the White House calling it the "first critical step in ending the violence".

However, very few analysts in the region believe that the ceasefire agreement alone will deliver lasting peace.

Without political reform "the long-term outlook is bleak", writes Katrina Manson in the Financial Times. There is also widespread concern that the opposition will be unable to control its different militia factions, the BBC warns.

Seyoum Mesfin, chief mediator at the peace talks, told Reuters that he believes the challenges faced by South Sudan after the war will be "greater than the war itself".

"The process will be unpredictable and delicate," he said.  · 

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