South Sudan's warring factions Thursday signed a cease-fire which is expected to end weeks of deadly fighting between the government and rebels.
Representatives for President Salva Kiir and the rebels signed the deal Thursday in Ethiopia. The East African regional bloc known as IGAD mediated.
The parties signed two agreements. The first calls for both sides to immediately cease all military operations and refrain from any action that could lead to fighting. The second deals with the status of detainees.
The government had been refusing to free 11 political opposition supporters arrested shortly after the crisis erupted in mid-December.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said he welcomes the cease-fire as a critical first step toward building a lasting peace. He said the United States will continue to work to help speed up the release of the political detainees.
A government representative told a reporter for VOA that the detainees would still have to face due process of law.
Fighting in South Sudan broke out last month with a gun battle at army headquarters. President Kiir accused former vice president Riek Machar of attempting a coup. Machar denied the charge.
U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said the fighting in South Sudan has killed thousands of people.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos will begin a three-day trip to South Sudan Monday. The U.N. said she will meet with government representatives and humanitarian groups in an effort to draw attention to the "humanitarian consequences" of the country's unrest.
In a VOA interview, Atlantic Council Africa Center Director Peter Pham said Thursday's agreement is a "good first step." He says, however, there are questions about whether the government and opposition have full control of their forces.
( OPTIONAL SOUNDBITE
Atlantic Council Africa Center Director Peter Pham:
"On neither side are we dealing with professional militaries of the sort that Americans and Europeans or East Asians are used to. These are units that answer to particular generals, some of whom are self-appointed, even." )