By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
January 24 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – The African Union (AU) has welcomed a ceasefire agreement signed on Thursday between the South Sudanese government of and the rebel movement aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar, calling on both sides to fully implement the terms of the ceasefire deal.
While commending the breakthrough, the continental bloc has reminded the two rival parties to adhere to the conditions of the truce agreement, which is aimed at ending more than a month of bitter fighting between forces loyal to president Salva Kiir and those backing Machar.
In a statement issued by the AU peace and Security Council (AUPSC), the chairperson of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, called on both parties to “faithfully and fully implement” their commitments under the ceasefire deal in order to “rapidly improve the humanitarian situation on the ground”.
East African regional bloc, the Inter-Govermental Authority on Development (IGAD), said it will monitor the ceasefire agreement, adding that no decision had been made as yet on whether peace forces would be deployed to South Sudan.
Regional leaders are expected to discuss the matter at the upcoming AU summit.
The AU chief underscored the need to urgently establish the monitoring and verification mechanism, further urging the South Sudanese government and rebels to fully cooperate with IGAD.
The agreement comes after South Sudan’s government agreed to release 11 pro-Machar political figures who were detained in connection to their links to an alleged failed coup attempt last month to overthrow the Kiir-led government, and followed three weeks of IGAD-led negotiations in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Only a few hours after the agreement was signed, rebels accused government forces of attacking their positions. The government denies the allegations.
The two factions were given 24 hours to implement arrangements for the ceasefire, although some political analysts doubt the two sides will stick to the terms of the agreement, amid an ongoing ethnic-based power struggle.
The fighting, which broke out in the capital, Juba, on 15 December following clashes between rival tribe members of the presidential guards, has killed thousands and forced half a million people to flee their homes.
The UN has accused both sides of committing atrocities and serious human rights violations during the conflict.
Dlamini-Zuma said the AU plans to launch an inquiry to investigate “human rights violations committed in the course of the conflict, with the view to ensuring accountability and promoting reconciliation and healing”.
She urged both parties to quickly engage in all-inclusive political dialogue to bring an end to conflict in the impoverished new nation.