The European Union has welcomed a ceasefire agreement between South Sudan’s government and rebels, calling for its quick implementation to end five weeks of conflict that has killed thousands of people in the world’s youngest nation.
The deal, under which the fighting should end within 24 hours, was signed between representatives of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Thursday.
“The killing must end now,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement issued late on Thursday.
“I welcome the agreement on the cessation of hostilities in South Sudan,” Ashton said, adding, “This agreement must now be turned to reality and the parties must move immediately to implement in good faith.”
“This means that the killing must end now. Women must be safe again. Children must be protected. The displaced must be able to return home. Humanitarian assistance must reach all in need without obstacle or abuse,” Ashton stated.
Mediators from the East African regional trading bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development brokered the deal, which will put in place a verification and monitoring mechanism for the ceasefire and allow unrestricted access to aid workers.
The fighting between troops of President Kiir, who is from the Dinka ethnic group, and Machar, a Nuer, erupted around Juba on December 15, 2013.
The conflict soon turned into an all-out war between the army and defectors, with the violence taking on an ethnic dimension that pitted the president’s tribe against Machar’s.
The International Crisis Group said on January 9 that about 10,000 people had been killed in the violence.
“Given the intensity of fighting in over 30 different locations in the past three weeks, we are looking at a death toll approaching 10,000,” said Casie Copeland, an analyst at the International Crisis Group.
South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 after its people overwhelmingly voted in a referendum for a split from the North.
The government in Juba is grappling with rampant corruption, unrest and conflict in the deeply impoverished but oil-rich nation left devastated by decades of war.