South Sudan rebel leader David Yau Yau has signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in Juba, which officials hope will signal the end of one of the longest-running insurgencies in the country.
The peace pact was signed months after Yau Yau engaged in negotiations with leaders of his Murle ethnic group, and then with church leaders appointed by President Salva Kiir. For the past week, negotiators for his rebel movement have been holding direct talks with representatives of the government in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.
The Reverend Canon Clement Janda, who led the government delegation at the talks, called the ceasefire agreement "a good move" that "has created a good ambience, good atmosphere for further discussions."
Under the terms of the pact, the two sides agreed to set up a monitoring and verification team composed of members of the church mediators, the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, and a joint military unit comprised equally of government and rebel soldiers.
The two sides also agreed to cease fighting immediately, and will continue to hold talks to hammer out other details of the deal.
Joseph Lilimoi, a spokesman for Yau Yau's rebel group at the negotiations, said the insurgents will honor the agreement as they continue negotiations with the government.
He also called for Jonglei, the largest state in South Sudan, where Yau Yau was based, to be split into two states to improve the chances of success for the peace deal.
“It must be divided because the population of Jonglei State is unable to live in harmony," he said.
"So it will be good if we divided them and the four tribes – Murle, Anyuak, Kachipo and Jie, which have been labeled as minorities within Jonglei state -- would have their own state,” he said.
In an interview with VOA last year, Yau Yau said he was fighting for a breakaway state for ethnic minorities who he said are deprived of their rights in South Sudan.
A former theology student, Yau Yau initially rebelled against the then semi-autonomous government of southern Sudan in April 2010 after losing his bid to be elected to the state assembly in Jonglei state.
He accepted a government amnesty offer in 2011, the year South Sudan became an independent nation, and returned to Juba where he was promoted to the rank of general in the South Sudanese army, the SPLA.
But he resumed his rebellion against Juba in 2012, and this time, his rebels were numerous and heavily armed, according to the Small Arms Survey.
"It is estimated that 4,000–6,000 largely Murle youth have directly joined Yau Yau’s ranks...The SPLA have captured AK-47s and RPG-7s from the rebel forces, but reports suggest that they are equipped with machine guns and mortars as well," the Geneva-based NGO said.
After numerous attacks at the beginning of last year in Jonglei state, including a deadly assault on a U.N. convoy, the SPLA launched an offensive against Yau Yau's rebels.
Several months later, Kiir made a new offer of amnesty to all of the rebel groups still active in South Sudan. Thousands of rebels laid down their arms, but not Yau Yau, who only agreed to begin peace talks with the government in late June last year after meeting with a delegation from Jonglei state's Murle community.
“We told him to stop his rebellion because it is affecting the community and destroying development in the area. He accepted and demanded government officials talk with him," Nyany Korok, a Murle youth leader who was part of the 15-strong delegation that met with Yau Yau, said at the time.