South Sudan rival leaders sign ceasefire deal

Kiir and Machar held talks in Ethiopia's capital amid growing international pressure for a peace deal

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South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar agreed a ceasefire deal on Friday, vowing to end nearly five months of civil war, under international pressure to stem bloodshed and avert famine and genocide.

Friday’s deal by the two men at a meeting in Ethiopia was the first time they had met face-to-face since violence erupted in mid-December following a long power struggle. Kiir and Machar shook hands and prayed together.

The men also agreed that a transitional government offered the “best chance” to take the country towards elections next year, though there was no immediate decision on who would be part of an interim administration.

The war has claimed thousands – and possibly tens of thousands – of lives, with over 1.2 million people forced to flee their homes.

The agreement was also signed by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who is hosting the talks in Addis Ababa.

Both sides also “agreed to open humanitarian corridors... and to cooperate with the UN” to ensure aid is delivered to the more than five million people in need, said head mediator Seyoum Mesfin, from the East African regional bloc IGAD.

But top African Union official Smail Chergui, the pan-African bloc’s peace and security commissioner, said that while the inking of the deal was welcomed, “even with the signing, given the current crisis, the restoration of peace in South Sudan will not be easy.”

Aid agencies are warning that South Sudan is now on the brink of Africa’s worst famine since the 1980s.

The conflict erupted on December 15 with Kiir accusing Machar of attempting a coup. Machar then fled to the bush to launch a rebellion, insisting that the president had attempted to carry out a bloody purge of his rivals.

[With AFP and Reuters]

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