UNHCR welcomes South Sudan ceasefire agreement

The United Nations refugee agency has welcomed the ceasefire agreement signed by the South Sudanese government and opposition groups aimed at reviving the stalled peace process.

‘‘The latest initiative comes as a ray of hope for South Sudanese who have witnessed the ravages of war since 2013,’’ said Arnauld Akodjenou, UNHCR Special Envoy for the South Sudan situation.

The agreement was signed in Addis Ababa on December 21 during the High-Level Revitalization Forum.

It primarily aims at revitalizing the 2015 peace agreement, cease hostilities, ease humanitarian access, ensure civilian protection and introduce sanctions on those violating the accord.

UNHCR also called for the inclusion of refugees in shaping the destiny of South Sudan.

The country is ranked by the UN as Africa’s biggest refugee crisis, coming third worldwide after Syria and Afghanistan.

South Sudan has been rid by war for over four years, sparked by accusations by President Salva Kiir that his then deputy Riek Machar was plotting a coup against his government. Machar denied the allegations but then went on to mobilize a rebel force to fight the government.

A UN-backed peace deal was signed in 2015, paving way for the 2016 formation of a unity government, with Machar taking up the first vice president position. The deal was however short-lived as fighting broke out in the capital Juba in July 2016, forcing Machar to flee the capital.

Regional leaders and the international community have been pressuring the warring factions to engage in talks to end the conflict, thjough Machar remains holed up in South Africa where he went to seek medical treatment.

UNHCR urged the South Sudan parties to ensure guns go silent in the country.

‘‘We are calling for unreserved support to translate this agreement on paper into silencing the guns throughout South Sudan,’’ Akodjenou said.