The president of South Sudan and his former vice president, Riek Machar, signed a ceasefire agreement and conceded they will work towards a power-sharing government that many hope will lead to a lasting peace for the world’s youngest country embroiled for the past five years in a civil war that has killed thousands and displaced millions.
On Sunday South Sudan president Salva Kiir and Machar signed the deal that is expected to lead to a peace accord with a unity government. The agreement was signed in neighboring Sudan in the presence of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, along with the heads of state of the surrounding nations of Kenya, Uganda, and Djibouti.
"I call on everyone as a leader of South Sudan that this agreement which we have signed today should be the end of the war and the conflict in our country," said Kiir on Sunday.
His first vice president and rival rebel leader, Riek Machar said at the signing, "today we celebrate, not just in South Sudan, but throughout the world."
Machar became Kiir’s first vice president in 2011 when South Sudan was declared independent from Sudan. In July 2013, Kiir sacked his cabinet and Machar.
Machar and critics of the president say the head of state purged his government at the time to gain political and ethnic power within the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) party. Kiir and Machar had both been long time rebel leaders, but from differing ethnic groups — Kiir from the powerful Dinka tribe, Machar from the Nuer — in the SPLM movement since its inception in the 1980s.
By December of 2013 Machar followers began fighting South Sudanese soldiers, and Kiir accused Machar of attempting a failed coup d'état on the government.
Fighting between the factions has left tens of thousands dead and displaced an estimated quarter of South Sudan's population of 12 million, reports Al Jazeera.
"An agreement on outstanding issues has been signed and this agreement expresses the commitment of all parties to a ceasefire," the foreign minister of Sudan, Al-Dirdiri Mohamed said on Sudan state television.
Several ceasefires have been broken and a power-sharing government was attempted in 2015 but fell apart when fighting resumed a year later. If this peace deal goes through the rival politicians will have three months to form a transitional power-sharing government and 36 months
South Sudan’s economy, which depends on oil extraction, has also been destroyed by the bloody civil war. Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir says oil will begin to be pumped from South Sudan and transported to his country beginning September 1.
"There will be profit ... one of our goals is the need to save the economy of South Sudan because it has reached a level of collapse," al-Bashir said on Sudan State TV on Sunday.
"My government and I know the conflict in South Sudan has resulted in a financial and political burden," Kiir said.
"We must accept that the internal war has no meaning and has imposed suffering on us and our families and has killed hundreds of our young men and women, destroyed our economy, and left us divided," he added.
Machar said, "there is no option but peace ... we have to focus after this stage on implementing the agreement that if we don't implement, we will all be failures."
Kiir said he believes the new peace deal will not collapse because it was not forced upon them like previous accords.