South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed an agreement in Addis Ababa in the early hours of Monday, pledging to set up a transitional, power-sharing government by July 9, the country's fourth anniversary of independence.
The two sides agreed to form what will be known as the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU), which will remain in power for 30 months. Among its key tasks will be to restore peace in South Sudan, help displaced persons return home, oversee reconciliation and healing, overhaul the system of governance, and rebuild the country.
But the agreement does not mean that South Sudan's conflict is finally over. Information Minister Michael Makuei said President Kiir and Machar will meet later this month to hammer out details of the agreement, which was based on proposals put forward by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional bloc that has been leading talks to end the fighting in South Sudan for more than a year.
“We agreed that on the 19th of this month, the principals plus the negotiating team will go back to Addis to continue talking and reach the final agreement not later than the fifth of March this year," Makuei said.
IGAD chair, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, said failure to reach a comprehensive peace agreement by that date "will have grave consequences to all of us and specifically to the leaders of South Sudan."
Disagreements to be overcome
Under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Kiir would remain president. But Makuei said the two sides disagreed on who should hold two key positions - vice president and first vice president.
Machar's rebel movement reportedly wants him to be named to the position of first vice president. But Makuei said the government wants the final agreement to include "two vice presidents with equal status so that their competencies are delegated to them by the president in accordance with the provision of our constitution.”
This is important because it would likely determine who would become president should the office become vacant during the transitional period.
The agreement calls for the National Legislative Assembly to be expanded from 332 members to 400. Sixty percent of the new members would be drawn from government ranks, 30 percent from Machar's movement and 10 percent from other political parties.
The term of the assembly, which, under South Sudan's transitional constitution, expires on July 9, would be extended to run concurrently with the transitional government's term.
Elections that were due to be held on June 30th would be postponed until the end of the 30-month transitional period. That means that elections would not be held until around January 2018.
The two sides agreed to "enter into a permanent ceasefire, to ensure sustainable peace..." The ceasefire would be based on the oft-violated cessation of hostilities agreement, which was signed on Jan. 23 last year.
The two sides pledged "to complete negotiations... and sign a Peace Agreement no later than March 31."
The agreement is the latest attempt to end fighting that has killed at least 10,000 people and driven nearly two million from their homes in South Sudan since conflict erupted in the capital, Juba, in December 2013. The cessation of hostilities agreement signed last year has been recommitted to several times, but never respected.
Karin Zeitvogel contributed to this report.