A cease-fire deal has been reached between the government of the nascent country of South Sudan and rebel forces to end five weeks of fighting that has claimed more than 10,000 lives.
The agreement for a countrywide cease-fire was signed Thursday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. NPR's Gregory Warner, reporting from Bukavu in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, says the deal marks a breakthrough in peace talks that stalled for weeks over the fate of 11 political prisoners under house arrest by the South Sudanese government.
The government agreed to grant the prisoners amnesty:
NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton says that the cessation of hostilities should allow the world's youngest nation to catch its breath, in a bid to restore peace. She says:
"Five weeks of warfare erupted in mid-December in South Sudan, after tension and a political tug-of-war between President Salva Kiir and his erstwhile deputy, Riek Machar."
"After weeks of stop-start negotiations between the two sides, brokered by the regional mediators the signing ceremony is the first real evidence of progress."
However, there are still potential pitfalls. As The Associated Press reports:
"The military spokesman for South Sudan cautioned that a group of rebel fighters from the former vice president's Nuer ethnic group — thousands of armed youths known as the 'White Army' — may not want peace.
"Nhail Deng Nhail, the head of South Sudan's negotiating team, said his side is worried that since many on the rebel side are civilians who took up arms, 'it may become difficult to follow the cease-fire since they are not militarily disciplined.' "
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney welcomed the deal — technically called a cessation of hostilities — and described it as a "first critical step in ending the violence"
"We call on all of South Sudan's leaders to honor their commitments to the people of South Sudan by working quickly and earnestly toward an inclusive and comprehensive political dialogue," Carney said.
The real test will come in the next few weeks, as more than 200,000 displaced people in South Sudan decide whether they feel safe enough to go back to their homes, NPR's Warner says.
For more background on the conflict, The Telegraph published a detailed explainer last month.