ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — South Sudan's government has accepted the deployment of a regional force it had first rejected, almost a month after fighting erupted between opposing army factions in its capital, an African regional bloc said Friday night.
The head of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development said the government had accepted a protection force "without any precondition." Mahboub Maalim spoke to reporters after several regional heads of state met on the crisis.
He said the timing of the deployment of the force, which is meant to protect civilians and help implement a peace deal, will be determined after regional defense chiefs meet in the coming days.
He also said the recently named first vice president, Taban Deng Gai, has agreed to step down if opposition leader Riek Machar returns to South Sudan's capital, Juba.
Machar, who had been first vice president under a peace deal reached in August 2015, fled the capital into hiding shortly after the fighting began last month. His rival, President Salva Kiir, replaced him with Taban, who had acted as the rebels' chief negotiator during peace talks to end a civil war that began in December 2013.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the civil war began, and fighting has continued despite the peace deal. The latest violence in the capital created a fresh wave of displaced people, many fleeing the country or into U.N. camps.
The U.N. human rights chief on Thursday said South Sudanese security forces had killed and raped civilians in the latest fighting.
Maalim, the IGAD secretary-general, told reporters that regional leaders agreed on the opening of humanitarian corridors in South Sudan for the delivery of aid. They also agreed to investigate who and what caused the latest fighting, he said.