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South Sudan to Implement Cease-fire Saturday

FILE - Government soldiers stand guard by their vehicle on the front lines in the town of Kuek, northern Upper Nile state, South Sudan, Aug. 19, 2017.

South Sudan's government and armed groups signed a cease-fire agreement Thursday during peace talks in Ethiopia, in their latest push to end a four-year civil war.

The agreement pledges that all parties on Saturday will end hostilities; freeze military positions; and release prisoners of war, political detainees, and abducted women and children.

African Union chairman Moussa Faki called the agreement "an encouraging first step" toward ending the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions more from their homes.

But this is only the latest attempt at a peace agreement in a war that has mutated from a conflict between two sides to one between the government and multiple opposition groups, as the world's newest nation struggles to establish its identity.

South Sudan achieved independence from Sudan in 2011, but a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former ally, Riek Machar, devolved into civil war two years later. A peace deal was signed in 2015, but it collapsed within a year as fighting broke out in capital city Juba, and then-first vice president Machar was forced into exile.

The governments of the United States, Britain and Norway issued a statement Thursday welcoming the agreement and congratulating the parties on their "willingness to compromise for the benefit of the people of South Sudan." The statement calls on all parties to implement the agreement "immediately," including providing humanitarian access to affected areas.

The three nations also called on all parties to address the security and governance concerns that are, as quoted in the statement, "essential for peace."