South Sudan’s warring leaders signed a fresh cease-fire deal Monday vowing to end more than eight months of conflict, according to mediators who threatened sanctions should the agreement fail once again.
East Africa’s regional IGAD bloc, which mediated the talks between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar, called on the leaders to forge a unity government within 45 days.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.8 million have fled civil war sparked by a power struggle between Kiir and Machar, who met Monday for the first time in more than two months.
An IGAD communique welcomed the “signature by the warring parties” to the deal, “which obliges the parties to bring the conflict to an end.”
Three previous cease-fire commitments have been broken within hours.
“As a region, we have to show that any party which violates agreements that there are consequences to misbehavior,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said at the summit of east African leaders.
“We are sending a clear message to the leaders of South Sudan. So delaying in the procedure will not be acceptable – if not the region will take action.”
Kiir and Machar last met in June, when they agreed to form a unity government within 60-days. They missed that deadline amid continuing war.
The United Nations has said the food crisis is the “worst in the world,” and aid workers warn of the risk of famine if the conflict continues.
The IGAD communique expressed “serious concerns over the worsening humanitarian situation in South Sudan where millions face famine, and which presents a threat to the national security of the entire region”.
Regional leaders at the summit included Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.
Ugandan troops are supporting South Sudan’s government forces in the battle against the rebels.
Fighting is between government troops, mutinous soldiers and ragtag militia forces divided by tribe.
“All agree that the peace process so far has been difficult, on a path wavering between hope and disappointment, between encouragement and skepticism,” said U.N. envoy Haile Menkerios.
“The warring parties have to understand that further delays in the peace process cannot be tolerated.”