ADDIS ABABA - East African bloc IGAD on Wednesday congratulated the South Sudanese government and opposition for signing a blueprint, called the matrix, to end an eight-month conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and driven the young country to the edge of famine.
IGAD said the "long-awaited" signing of the matrix means that the cessation of hostilities agreement that was signed on Jan. 23 will finally be put into action and "...the guns will be silenced and the senseless conflict in South Sudan will end."
Opposition: We didn't sign
But chief opposition negotiator, Taban Deng Gai, put a damper on IGAD's congratulatory mood, saying no one from his side signed the matrix.
"What we signed is a rededication to a document that we don’t know," he told South Sudan in Focus. "They talk of matrix, they talk of addendum, they talk of addendum to matrix. We told the (IGAD) envoy that the matrix itself is an addendum to the cessation of hostilities agreement."
Explaining later that the opposition refused to sign the document because IGAD was imposing it on them, Gai referred to it as a matrix agreement.
"The mediators, IGAD, should accept that they are failing," Gai said. "In forums, when you don't provide accepted solutions to the parties, if you impose a solution to the crisis, you are fuelling more the crisis. That is why we have decided not to sign the matrix."
The government’s lead negotiator, Nhial Deng Nhial, said the matrix was signed by both sides, "And they did not sign it behind closed doors."
"It was signed in front of the whole world with media there and in front of the leaders of IGAD," Nhial said.
Nhial said the question now was "...whether they (the opposition) will abide by it or not."
Under the terms of the matrix, both sides are required to immediately freeze the position of their forces and begin to disengage them. They will be helped in this by IGAD's Joint Technical Committee and by ceasefire monitoring teams, IGAD said.
IGAD said ending the fighting is key to building trust and confidence between the government and opposition so that multi-party talks, which will resume on Sept. 13, can finally make progress and bring lasting peace to South Sudan and allow the 1.7 million who have been displaced by the fighting to return home.