South Sudan breakthrough at Arusha summit

 Rival factions sign agreement during peace talks in Arusha

There was a major breakthrough in the ongoing South Sudan peace talks on 22 January when the three rival factions of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed an deal to reunify the party, during a ceremony at the Ngurdoto Hotel in Arusha.

The agreement was signed by senior figures in the SPLM including South Sudan president Salva Kiir, former vice president Riek Machar, and minister of cabinet affairs Deng Alor Kuol.

The deal is the culmination of a series of negotiations aimed at repairing the rift among party leaders which resulted in more than a year of civil war violence in South Sudan. Fighting began in December 2013 after a dispute in the SPLM leadership, causing several army commanders to rebel, with Machar leading the insurgency fought on ethnic lines. The war has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and has displaced almost two million people.

Both sides have now agreed to help restore peace and stability, to implement policies aimed at ending tribalism, sectarianism and militarism in political life, and to foster a culture of tolerance and democracy.

The talks in Arusha were at the invitation of Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete who witnessed the signing ceremony along with regional heads of state.

Separate peace talks being mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the east African regional bloc, are scheduled to resume on 30 January in Addis Ababa, on the sidelines of a meeting of the African Union (AU).

South Sudan is Africa's youngest country and proclaimed its independence from Sudan in July 2011 after its people voted in a referendum to secede from the north. It was subsequently admitted as the 54th member of the AU. One of the world's poorest nations, South Sudan is about the size of France with a population thought to be between eight and ten million.