One-Month Agreement Is Set to Allow Evacuations of Civilians Caught Up in Fighting

South Sudanese delegations meeting in a night club in January(photo: Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images)
South Sudanese delegations meeting in a night club in January in Addis Ababa (photo: Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

May 05, 2014(KAMPALA)—South Sudan’s warring parties on Monday signed a deal to freeze military actions for at least one month to allow for the evacuation of civilians caught up in the conflict.

The deal, signed by rebel representatives and government delegates in Ethiopia, will also provide for the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow the delivery of aid to tens of thousands of people that have been uprooted from their homes by the conflict, said Ateny Wek Ateny, the spokesman for South Sudan President Salva Kiir.

The move has raised hopes of a possible breakthrough for U.S.-backed efforts to broker a truce for the nearly five-month conflict.

The deal comes days after Secretary of State John Kerry visited Juba, in a push to get Mr. Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar to the negotiating table.

“As a government. we are committed to the peace process,” said Mr. Ateny, adding, “Right now the president is preparing to travel to Ethiopia on Tuesday for talks with Machar.”

The two leaders are expected on Wednesday to open talks over the formation of a transition government. But Mr. Machar told local media over the weekend that he doesn’t think a transitional government could happen before an election.

Mr. Kerry warned of consequences if Mr. Machar refused to participate in the peace effort.

The U.S. is planning to impose sanctions on individuals on both sides of the conflict in the coming days, Reuters reported on Monday.

It isn’t the first time the two sides signed a deal to pause fighting. Both sides have violated a January cessation-of-hostilities deal. The fighting has splintered the three-year-old nation along ethnic lines, pitting Mr. Machar’s Nuer community against Mr. Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group.

Thousands have died and more than one million have fled their homes, overwhelming United Nations camps.

Even as the delegates signed the deal, fighting continued around the contested town of Bentiu, capital of oil-producing Unity state, near the border with Sudan. The town, which was the scene of massacres that left more than 200 people dead in April, has changed hands several times since the conflict started.

South Sudan’s military spokesman, Col. Philip Aguer, said on Monday that government troops had recaptured Bentiu, along with three outposts from rebel fighters in Unity. However, a rebel spokesman told local media that the rebels had repulsed the attacks.

Write to Nicholas Bariyo at nicholas.bariyo@wsj.com

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