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South Sudan government, rebels sign ceasefire

Fighting broke out between rival army units in the capital Juba on Dec. 15, with President Salva Kiir accusing his sacked deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup.

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South Sudanese People Liberation Army (SPLA) soldier patrol in Malakal on January 21, 2014. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

South Sudan's government and rebels on Thursday signed a ceasefire agreement, pledging to halt fighting within 24 hours and end five weeks of bitter conflict that has left thousands dead.

The agreement was signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa by representatives of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and rebel delegates loyal to ousted vice president Riek Machar, and was greeted by cheers from regional mediators and diplomats.

Mediators from the East African regional bloc IGAD, which has been brokering the peace talks, said the deal will put in place a verification and monitoring mechanism for the truce.

South Sudan's government also agreed to release 11 officials close to Machar who were detained after fighting between rival army units broke out on December 15, although no timeline for their release was given. The status of the detainees had been a major sticking point in the talks.

Fighting broke out between rival army units in the capital Juba on Dec. 15, with President Salva Kiir accusing his sacked deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup.

The conflict quickly deteriorated into all-out war between the regular army, who are being backed by Ugandan troops, and defectors and ethnic militia, with the violence also pitting Kiir's Dinka tribe against Machar's Nuer group.

The peace deal presented by IGAD mediators is expected to cover a ceasefire agreement and address the issue of 11 detainees close to Machar who were arrested after the fighting started.

Aid workers and analysts say the conflict has left up to 10,000 dead, while around half a million people have fled their homes.

A rebel spokesperson said he believed a breakthrough could happen soon, but could not provide details of a possible deal.

"It seems as if something could happen," Yohanis Musa Pouk told AFP.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/140123/south-sudan-government-rebels-expected-sign-ceasefire