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South Sudan's warring factions reach cease-fire – for now

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Elias Asmare/AP

(Read caption) Nhail Deng Nhail (2nd l.), the head of South Sudan's negotiating team, and top negotiator for the rebel's side, Taban Deng Gai (r.), a general in South Sudan's army before he defected, sign a cessation of hostilities agreement in front of mediator Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom, center, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.

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The fighting in South Sudan that has disrupted oil production will take a pause starting Friday after the government and rebels signed a cease-fire deal. But the agreement faces serious risks of collapse in the days ahead.

Our correspondent in South Sudan is expressing skepticism that the rebels are united enough to adequately honor the cease-fire on the ground. And our correspondent in Ethiopia, where the cease-fire deal was struck Thursday, says the two camps are far apart still on the key issue of 11 political prisoners held by the government.

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“When I spoke to the information minister from the government delegation, Michael Makuel Lueth, I asked him about the detainee issue, and he said that they would be released in accordance with the laws of South Sudan,” says our correspondent in Addis Ababa. “When I asked him whether they would be appearing [and taking part] in the next stage of talks, he said not necessarily.

“But the head of the rebel delegation, the chief negotiator, Taban Deng Gai, said that they would not participate in the next phase of the talks beginning on Feb. 7 if the detainees had not been released so they are able to participate in them. So there’s still a decent gap between the parties on that particular point, and it is quite an important point.”

Fighting broke out in December after President Salva Kiir removed Vice President Riek Machar. Some of Mr. Machar’s supporters took up arms, and were joined by other antigovernment factions. The two leaders hail from different ethnic groups, overlaying ethnic tensions on the resulting power struggle.

Rebels had been demanding the release of 11 Machar allies imprisoned on accusations of attempting to overthrow the government. Under the cease-fire agreement, there is no commitment from the government to release the detainees. Instead, the parties agreed that the prisoners should be part of a coming peace process.

Both sides also agreed to cease hostilities within 24 hours and reconvene in two weeks. Silencing all the guns might be a tall order, according to our South Sudan correspondent.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Frontier Markets.