South Sudan confirms that fighting in the country has stopped following a ceasefire with rebels. President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar agreed to the ceasefire after meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on May 9.
The two men shook hands, prayed together, and agreed to order a halt to fighting within 24 hours — or by Saturday evening.
The agreement came after massive international pressure on both sides to stop a conflict marked by widespread human rights abuses, a major humanitarian crisis and fears the world’s youngest nation was on the brink of a genocide and Africa’s worst famine since the 1980’s.
“The situation is calm. We have not received any attacks since this morning,” South Sudan’s defence minister, Kuol Manyang, told AFP late Saturday.
Several independent aid agencies also confirmed that major frontlines around key towns were quiet throughout the day. Kiir and Machar had agreed to a ceasefire in January, but that deal quickly fell apart.
The United Nations food agency meanwhile warned there was only a “small window of opportunity” to avert famine, and appealed for relief agencies — who have been subjected to armed attacks and looting — to be allowed unfettered access.
In their deal, Kiir and Machar agreed to form a transitional government and hold fresh elections, and “open humanitarian corridors… and to cooperate with the UN” to ensure aid is delivered.
The peace deal, which followed intense lobbying from world leaders and Washington slapping sanctions on senior military commanders, came amid new reports of war crimes committed by both sides and fears that a wave of ethnic killings could result in genocide.
The war has claimed thousands — and possibly tens of thousands — of lives, with more than 1.2 million people forced to flee their homes.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in South Sudan earlier this month to push for peace, said the agreement “could mark a breakthrough.”
“The hard journey on a long road begins now and the work must continue,” Kerry said in a statement, urging “both leaders to take immediate action now to ensure that this agreement is implemented in full and that armed groups on both sides adhere to its terms.”
European Union foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton warned that “humanitarian calamity beckons” and that “the rapid implementation of this agreement is the only way large numbers of South Sudanese can be spared from violence and famine.”