South Sudan’s government and rebels signed an accord on security arrangements after talks in Khartoum, witnesses said, a step to a power-sharing deal at a summit in Uganda.
The talks have been hosted by Sudan, from which South Sudan declared independence in 2011 after decades of bloodshed. South Sudan plunged into a devastating war two years later when a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and then-Vice President Riek Machar exploded into military confrontation.
Senior Sudanese government officials watched as envoys of Kiir’s administration and the rebels led by Machar signed the security arrangements agreement at Sudan’s defence ministry.
“With the signing of this agreement, it is time for our brothers in South Sudan to put aside weapons and for South Sudan to achieve stability,” Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed told reporters.
He said Kiir and Machar would reconvene in Kampala to clinch a final peace deal. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni will also attend the talks.
“We expect an agreement at this meeting on a power-sharing blueprint. We are optimistic regarding reaching a deal on power sharing in South Sudan,” Ahmed said.
There was no immediate comment from Kiir or Machar.
There have been repeated attempts to end the civil war that broke out in December 2013 in the world’s youngest nation.
Last month, Kiir signed a framework agreement with Machar in Khartoum providing for a ceasefire, paving the way for talks towards a full treaty.
Rebels on the ground rejected some elements of the accord and both sides accused each other of violating the truce, trading blame for attacks that have killed 18 civilians.
Sudanese army spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Khalifa al-Shami said the security deal set four major goals – clearing population centres of armed forces, a timeframe to unify and reorganise South Sudan’s military, setting up a joint security committee and deciding on areas where forces are to be based.
The political row between Kiir and Machar reopened ethnic fault lines between the Dinka and Nuer. Fighting uprooted about a quarter of its 12 million population, gutted oil production and ruined an already widely impoverished economy.