South Sudan ceasefire set to begin after peace deal
By Waakhe Simon Wudu, AFP
May 11, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
JUBA, South Sudan -- A ceasefire between South Sudan's government and rebels was due to come into effect Saturday following a deal to end a brutal five-month war that has pushed the country to the brink of genocide and famine.
President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, a former vice president, met in the Ethiopian capital on Friday, shook hands and prayed together, and "agreed that immediately all hostile activities will stop within 24 hours."
The rivals "agreed that a transition government offers the best chance to the people of South Sudan" with the promise of fresh elections for the world's youngest nation, said Seyoum Mesfin, head mediator with the East African regional bloc IGAD.
Both sides also "agreed to open humanitarian corridors ... and to cooperate with the U.N." to ensure aid is delivered to the more than five million people in need, he added.
Military officials from both sides said frontlines appeared to be quiet ahead of the deadline to implement the truce.
The peace deal, which followed intense lobbying from world leaders and Washington slapping sanctions on senior military commanders, came amid new reports of war crimes committed by both sides and fears that a wave of ethnic killings could result in genocide.
The war has claimed thousands — and possibly tens of thousands — of lives, with more than 1.2 million people forced to flee their homes.
Aid agencies are warning that South Sudan is now on the brink of Africa's worst famine since the 1980s.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in South Sudan earlier this month to push for peace, said the "agreement to immediately stop the fighting in South Sudan and to negotiate a transitional government could mark a breakthrough."
"The hard journey on a long road begins now and the work must continue," Kerry said in a statement, urging "both leaders to take immediate action now to ensure that this agreement is implemented in full and that armed groups on both sides adhere to its terms."
'Mammoth aid effort' Needed
South Sudanese army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP that the truce appeared to already be in place.
"As far as the information I have there are not any skirmishes today. The rebels are under Riek Machar and it was Riek Machar who declared war against the government," he said, adding however that he feared "other forces not under the control of Riek Machar."