South Sudan President Salva Kiir and arch-foe Riek Machar agreed to a “permanent” ceasefire to take effect within 72 hours, raising hopes of a deal to end their country’s devastating war.
“All parties have agreed on a permanent ceasefire within 72 hours of signing the Khartoum Document,” Sudan’s Foreign Minister Al-Dierdiry Ahmed announced following talks in the Sudanese capital on Wednesday, June 27.
Kiir and Machar then signed the document in the presence of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
“This day was expected by our people in South Sudan and it has now come,” Kiir said after the signing of the agreement.
Machar said the ceasefire must finally lead to the “ending of the war”.
The latest push for peace in South Sudan comes as part of a fresh bid launched by East African leaders and with the two factions facing a looming deadline to avert United Nations sanctions.
Several previous ceasefire agreements have been violated.
“We offer this agreement as a gift to South Sudanese citizens,” Bashir said. “This agreement says that peace has started to return to South Sudan.”
The Khartoum negotiations came after a round of talks brokered by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last week in Addis Ababa faltered.
On arriving in Khartoum, Kiir and Machar expressed their readiness to talk peace as the dialogue opened in the presence of Bashir and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
South Sudan has fought for decades for self-determination, but after independence in 2011, an ethnic power struggle between Kiir and Machar led to all out civil war in 2013 when the president accused his then-deputy of plotting a coup.
Initially pitting Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group against Machar’s Nuer, South Sudan’s conflict has expanded, drawing in a variety of ethnic groups and grievances.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions more uprooted or pushed to the brink of starvation in a conflict characterised by mass rape and the killing of civilians. Aid workers and peacekeepers have frequently been targeted.
A peace deal was signed in 2015 but collapsed in July 2016 when fresh fighting in the capital Juba forced then first vice president Machar into exile. The opposition split, with Taban Deng taking over as first vice president, while Machar’s faction returned to battling the government in the bush.