BENTIU, SOUTH SUDAN —
Thousands of rebel fighters have accepted an amnesty deal proposed by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and "declared peace with the government of South Sudan," rebel and government officials said Friday.
"Because South Sudan needs development, peace and forgiveness, we have decided to end rebellion in South Sudan," Gordon Buay, spokesman of the Leadership Council of South Sudan Rebels, said in a statement.
Guay said 5,000 members of the South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) and their families have arrived in Mayom County, in the north of the country, "as part of the peace process."
"The atmosphere was very warm that women and children started ululating and singing for the spirit of brotherhood that has come to South Sudan," he said.
Michael Chiengjiek Geay, the deputy governor of Unity State, confirmed that several thousand rebels from the SSLM, one of the largest rebel groups in South Sudan, arrived in Mayom County earlier this week.
Led by Brigadier General Bapiny Monytuel, the SSLM rebels agreed to turn in their arms and ammunition, and more than 64 vehicles.
Rebel groups who take up Kiir's amnesty offer will not be prosecuted, Geay said.
“To me, this is a good process for peace and stability in the state, because these are the people who have been fighting us all along," he said.
"If they actually answer the calls of our president, always calling for peace,
this is very good.”
Rebel commanders are due to meet next week in Juba with Kiir to formalize their surrender.
Kiir offered amnesty to all rebel groups operating in South Sudan after he took office in 2011.
The SSLM was formed in 1999 to fight with southern Sudanese rebels against Khartoum in the once unified Sudan's long civil war.
But ahead of South Sudan’s independence in 2011, the rebels turned against Juba, accusing officials of corruption and tribal favoritism.
SSLM fighters have been blamed for the deaths of 20 soldiers in the South Sudanese army, the SPLA, in early 2011. SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said members of the SSLM have remained active along Unity state’s border with Sudan, near one of South Sudan’s largest oil fields.
A team from the SPLA arrived in Unity State on Friday for talks on integrating members of the SSLM into the national army.
South Sudan's government has been struggling to contain several insurgencies it claims are supported by its old civil war foe Khartoum since it gained independence from Sudan in July 2011. Sudan denies the claims.
Relations between the Sudans have thawed in recent months, paving the way in April for the resumption of the South's oil being piped through Sudan after a 15-month shutdown.
Earlier this month, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir made his first visit to South Sudan since its secession in a bid to help normalize relations and restart cross-border trade.