JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN —
A delegation of South Sudan's rebels has returned to the capital after two years of exile to start implementing a peace agreement signed four months ago, officials said Monday.
Fifteen members of a 150-person advance team landed in South Sudan's capital, Juba, from Gambela, Ethiopia, to start work to make the peace deal a reality, Paul Kordit, the spokesman of the government's reception committee said.
"We would like to welcome them to the capital of the republic of South Sudan, Juba, and tell them they are welcome home," he said.
Ramadan Hassan Lako, who led the rebels who arrived Monday, said the other members were delayed due to technical issues on a flight from Khartoum, Sudan.
"I want to assure the people of South Sudan that we start today the implementation of agreement," Lako said.
The arrival of the advance team is a sign of commitment from both sides to make peace a reality, Edmund Yakani, of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, told The Associated Press.
"For me it is raising hope. It is a good gesture for hope that the peace agreement now will be implemented because now at least the principle parties are in Juba," he said.
South Sudan's war has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million from their homes while pushing parts of the population into famine conditions. Sporadic fighting has continued despite the peace agreement signed in August.
South Sudan's civil war started on December 15, 2013 after a skirmish in a barracks in Juba between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and troops who support former vice president Riek Machar, who is of the Nuer tribal group.