South Sudan, rebels reach cease-fire after weeks of fighting

Story highlights

  • South Sudan's government and rebels agree on a cease-fire brokered by East African mediation group
  • Fighting broke out December 15 after rebels tried to stage a coup
  • Cease-fire calls for an end to all military operations and the protection of civilians
  • Unarmed group of monitors will be set up to ensure the agreement sticks

The South Sudanese government and rebels signed a cease-fire deal on Thursday after more than a month of fighting, according to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African trade bloc that has been helping to mediate between the parties.

The government and the rebels reached the agreement in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

It calls for an immediate end to all military operations and a freeze of forces at the "place they are in."

The parties also agreed not to attack civilians and to refrain from rape, sexual abuse and torture. Supply routes for humanitarian aid are to be opened to reach displaced populations.

The agreement also sets up an unarmed group of monitors that includes members from surrounding East African nations and representatives from both the rebels and the government.

Their job will be to ensure that the cease-fire agreement is effective.

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According to the official document, the cease-fire begins Friday, 24 hours after its signing.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed hope that a peace deal will "provide good opportunities for South Sudanese, and the people around this country who have been suffering."

Support for peace talks also came from U.S. President Barack Obama who called on both parties to adhere to a separate detainee agreement, which was also signed as part of the cease-fire deal.

"The full participation of political detainees currently being held by the Government of South Sudan will be critical to those discussions, and we will continue to work to expedite their release," the White House statement said.

South Sudan erupted in violence on December 15 when rebels loyal to ousted Vice President Riek Machar tried to stage a coup. Violence quickly spread, with reports of mass killings emerging nationwide.

Some of the heaviest fighting was over control of Bor, the strategically located capital of Jonglei state. It was recaptured by government forces last week. The mayor said between 1,200 and 1,400 civilians were killed when rebels held Bor between December 17 and 24.

In a statement, the trade bloc said the cease-fire is an important milestone, but more shuttle diplomacy is needed before the next phase of peace talks can begin.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war, making it the world's youngest nation.