South Sudan, Rebels Sign Cease-Fire

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -

South Sudan’s government and rebels signed a cease-fire deal Thursday that leaders hope will put a pause to five weeks of warfare that has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians.

The peace deal represents the first real progress since political friction turned violent Dec. 15, fueling countrywide battles with ethnic overtones. But questions were immediately raised about whether all fighters in South Sudan would abide by the agreement, and how long others would follow it.

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” and building a sustainable peace. The U.S. expects both parties to implement the agreement fully and swiftly and move toward an inclusive dialogue, he said.

“The United States will remain a steady partner to those who choose the path of peace,” and work toward a more democratic, unified South Sudan, Carney said.