The South Sudanese government and rebels on signed a ceasefire deal on Thursday aimed at ending a five-week conflict in which thousands of people have been killed and 500,000 displaced.

Negotiators representing President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed the agreement in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa after peace talks mediated by the East African bloc IGAD had deadlocked for more than two weeks.

“Despite the signature on the cessation of hostilities, we have no illusions that the implementation will be easy,” government chief negotiator Nhial Deng warned.

The talks had deadlocked mainly over Mr. Kiir’s refusal to release 11 Machar supporters he accused of plotting a coup.

The detainees include senior figures from South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), such as its former secretary-general Pagan Amum and former cabinet minister Deng Alor.

The rebels said the release of the detainees would remain their priority during the ceasefire.

“We demand their release to allow them to take part in the next phase of political dialogue,” said Taban Deng, the chief negotiator for the rebels.

The rebels also highlighted their desire to be involved in the country’s government as a solution to the crisis within the SPLM.

“We look forward to the next stage to address SPLM party issues, national political government issues,” Taban Deng said.

Peace talks will be adjourned between January 24 and February 7 while a monitoring mechanism will be set up by IGAD to oversee the truce.

US welcomes deal

The United States welcomed the ceasefire deal as “a first critical step” to end the conflict and build a “sustainable peace.” “We expect both parties to fully and swiftly implement the agreement and to demonstrate a firm commitment to the letter and the spirit of the agreement in the coming weeks and months,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

He called for both parties to move “swiftly to an inclusive political dialogue to resolve the underlying causes of the current conflict” and vowed US support for democracy in the region.

The European Union’s Horn of Africa special representative Alexander Rondos said negotiations would have to continue to solve the political dispute.

“This has not been an easy task. Today, the first hurdle in bringing peace and normality back to South Sudan has been crossed. There will be many more hurdles,” he said.

The power struggle between the two rivals turned violent mid-December, when fighting erupted between Mr. Kiir’s ethnic group — the Dinkas — and Mr. Machar’s — Nuers — in the presidential guard.

Fighting soon spread around the country. Human rights groups reported ethnically based killings on both sides.

The International Crisis Group and other analysts put the number of casualties at up to 10,000. Nearly 500,000 people have been internally displaced, while more than 80,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.

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