The White House on Thursday welcomed a peace deal between South Sudan’s government and rebels as a “critical first step” and called on both parties to implement it swiftly.
The deal, signed earlier Thursday, committed both sides to halt fighting within 24 hours and end five weeks of conflict that has left thousands dead.
“We welcome today’s signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“This is a first critical step in ending the violence … we expect both parties to fully and swiftly implement the agreement.
“The United States urges both sides to build on this momentum by moving swiftly to an inclusive political dialogue.”
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.
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.
The US special envoy to South Sudan and Sudan, Donald Booth, earlier this month met Machar along with regional mediators.
After initial clashes broke out in the capital Juba more than a month ago, the conflict rapidly escalated into all-out war between the regular army, backed by Ugandan troops, and breakaway army units and other militia.
The violence also took on an ethnic dimension as members of Kiir’s Dinka tribe clashed with Machar’s Nuer group.
Aid workers and analysts believe up to 10,000 people have died, while close to half a million have been forced to flee their homes, with atrocities allegedly committed by both sides.
Jan Egeland, a former UN aid chief and now head of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told AFP Thursday the scale of atrocities and war crimes was as bad as that seen in Syria or Somalia.
Responding to those comments, Carney said: “those who have committed atrocities must be held accountable.”
The State Department said the United States would continue its efforts to expedite the release of detainees and ensure their meaningful participation in a political dialogue.
“It is also important to ensure that assistance can reach the hundreds of thousands of people who have been affected by this conflict,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“To this end, we call on all parties to facilitate the immediate and unfettered provision of humanitarian assistance to all those in need in South Sudan, regardless of where they are located,” she said.