South Sudan: Ceasefire comes into effect

President Salva Kiir (left) and rebel leader Riek Machar after signing the deal Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Salva Kiir (left) and rebel leader Riek Machar signed the deal in Ethiopia on Friday

A ceasefire to end a five-month conflict that has displaced 1.5 million people in South Sudan has come into effect.

President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed the deal on Friday.

Troops would defend themselves if they came under attack, said the president's spokesman, but he added the government was not expecting any problems.

A previous deal, made in January, collapsed in days, with each side accusing the other of breaching terms.

The agreement was signed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, after the rivals' first face-to-face meeting since hostilities began in December.

Earlier, the UN called on both sides to facilitate deliveries of emergency aid to a population in danger of mass hunger: The UN estimates that some five million of its citizens are in need.

Toby Lanzer, the UN's top aid official in the region, said roads and rivers must be opened for emergency relief.

South Sudan is the world's newest state, as well as one of its poorest.

Coup claim

As well as an immediate ceasefire, the deal envisages the creation of a transitional government ahead of the drafting of a new constitution and fresh elections.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Rebel and government forces have been fighting since December in the world's newest state

But it is not clear how that government would be formed and, with many details of the deal yet to be worked out, officials caution that a lasting peace may still be some way off.

Mr Kiir's spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, told the BBC it was down to Mr Machar to rebuild the trust lost during the fighting that has cost thousands of lives.

"We hope that things will go well because the highest levels have signed the document and the other side, the rebels, they should also respect the words and signatures of their leaders," said the spokesman.

He denied the conflict had become a war on ethnic lines, between the Dinka tribe of the president and the Nuer tribe of his rival.

The UN has accused both the South Sudanese government and the rebels of crimes against humanity, including mass killings and gang-rape.

The violence began when President Kiir accused his sacked deputy Mr Machar of plotting a coup.

Mr Machar denied the allegation, but then marshalled a rebel army to fight the government.

The battle assumed ethnic overtones, with Mr Machar relying heavily on fighters from his Nuer ethnic group and Mr Kiir from his Dinka community.

The UN has about 8,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan. However, they have struggled to contain the conflict.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011, breaking away from Sudan after decades of conflict between rebels and the Khartoum government.

Image caption Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
Image caption Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Image caption Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
Image caption The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Image caption After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Image caption Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however, this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Image caption Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight. This compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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