By Andrew Irumba
JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN: South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, and rebel leader Dr.Riek Machar signed a framework agreement on Wednesday in the Sudanese Capital- Khartoum, announcing a permanent cease-fire throughout South Sudan that will take effect within 72 hours of its signing.
The agreement also provides for security arrangements that include protection of oil fields in South Sudan and developing the country’s infrastructure, but does not cover the more contentious issues, such as power-sharing and unifying government and opposition forces.
Wednesday’s deal declares that a permanent cease-fire in South Sudan is based on the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, which was signed in December 2017 by Kiir, Machar, representatives of the former detainees, and political parties in South Sudan.
In remarks following a signing ceremony, Machar said the agreement should end the fighting.
“This agreement has a lot of meanings. First, the war should come to an end by this declaration of cease-fire. I believe our people in South Sudan will be the happiest that cease-fire has been declared and will take effect in the next three days,” said Machar, who is Kiir’s former Vice president.
Machar said the framework deal should lead to more agreements on unresolved issues.
“It’s the start of a new phase in the lives of our people. I believe this agreement will make us work very quickly so that we can agree on the outstanding issues in the bridging proposal,” he said.
At the same ceremony, Kiir praised Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, for facilitating the face-to-face talks that led to the signing.
“I am coming here to express my gratitude to his Excellency, President Omar al-Bashir, for helping us to reach this day where we have signed this agreement,” Kiir said.
The president vowed to uphold this latest cease-fire, even though government and rebel forces violated the last one within hours of its signing.
“It is the day our people of South Sudan have been expecting, and I am happy that it has finally been achieved. I am committed to respect the whole document that I have signed and will abide by all the agreements that will follow,” Kiir said.
Casie Copeland, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said while there is a risk that the agreement is just another symbolic gesture, it could lead to a reduction in fighting if true political will is exhibited by both Kiir and Machar.
“Any cease-fire that works on the ground is welcome, given the humanitarian situation in the country. On the other hand, there have been cease-fires and cessation of hostilities in the past that haven’t been respected, so people are very skeptical.”
Copeland cautioned that sometimes cease-fires are used as a political step to demonstrate the peace process is working, “and to provide something to show to external actors,” rather than a real commitment being implemented on the ground.
Government and opposition delegations are expected to remain in Khartoum and engage in consultations over the next two weeks.
The cease-fire agreement provides that the parties must reach a compromise on the gaps between the government and opposition proposals before the Kiir-Machar talks move to Kenya.
South Sudan’s conflict began in 2013 as a power struggle between Kiir and Machar. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the four-and-a-half-year conflict. Two million South Sudanese have been displaced internally, and another 2 million have fled to neighboring countries including Uganda.