WASHINGTON : US President Barack Obama applauded Thursday’s agreement declaring a ceasefire between the Government of South Sudan and opposition forces as a “critical first step toward building a lasting peace” in the country.
 “I welcome today’s signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement in South Sudan , which is a critical first step toward building a lasting peace,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.
The government led by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar agreed earlier Thursday to end deadly fighting that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced a million people.
Obama urged South Sudanese leaders to work to “fully and immediately” implement the agreement and start an inclusive political dialogue to address the underlying causes of the conflict.
“In order to regain the trust of their people and the international community, South Sudan’s leaders must demonstrate their sustained commitment to a peaceful resolution of the crisis,” the US president said.
The current conflict in South Sudan , the world’s youngest country, broke out on Dec. 15 last year when Kiir’s government said that soldiers loyal to Machar, who was dismissed last July, staged an attempted coup. Eleven pro-rebel leaders were detained by the government for their alleged role in the coup attempt.
“The full participation of political detainees currently being held by the Government of South Sudan will be critical to those discussions and we will continue to work to expedite their release,” Obama said.
US Assistant Secretary for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield said earlier this month that the US found no evidence of coup and the violence in South Sudan erupted due to “a huge political rift” between Kiir and Machar.
“There is clear evidence that targeted killings have taken place,” the top US diplomat for Africa said at a Congressional hearing.
Obama also reiterated the US position that individuals who have committed atrocities should be held accountable.
“Those working for a more peaceful, democratic, unified South Sudan will continue to have a steady partner in the United States of America,” he added.