South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has agreed to sign a peace deal aimed at ending his country's 20-month-old civil war.
In a letter obtained by VOA's South Sudan In Focus program, the East African bloc IGAD says the agreement will be signed Wednesday in Juba, South Sudan's capital.
IGAD has been mediating talks to end the war between Kiir's government and rebels led by his former deputy, Riek Machar.
Kiir's spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, confirmed that the president will sign the deal on Wednesday after holding a mini-summit with the leaders of four of South Sudan's neighbors: Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.
Ateny says Kiir will sign the agreement even though he does not agree with all of it.
Among the contentious issues in the agreement is a proposal to demilitarize Juba and make a foreign force, including U.N. and African Union troops, responsible for security in the capital.
The Kiir government also objects to power-sharing provisions and to a proposal to put foreigners in charge of a commission that would monitor implementation of the deal.
Machar signed the agreement in Addis Ababa on August 17, but Kiir refused, saying that peace under the deal could not be sustained.
The United States has threatened sanctions against leaders on both sides of the conflict unless they make progress toward ending the war, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives and forced more than 2.2 million people from their homes.
UN: Peace deal signing a 'first step'
Meanwhile, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan welcomed news Tuesday that President Salva Kiir is ready to sign a peace deal. Ellen Margrethe Loej told the U.N. Security Council, however, that the signing is only a first step to putting the country back on the path to peace, stability and prosperity.
Speaking via a video link from South Sudan’s capital, Juba, Loej urged the country’s feuding leaders to put their people first.
“I reiterate my call to the leaders of South Sudan to place the interests of their people above their personal ambitions and to implement the peace agreement in good faith,” she said..
Loej said despite this positive development, the security situation on the ground has been volatile and tense, especially in Greater Upper Nile and Unity State.
She said the number of civilians seeking safety at six U.N. bases has surged in the past four months to 200,000 from 120,000 in April.
U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien, who visited South Sudan in late July, told the council that the humanitarian situation continues to “sharply deteriorate.” In half the country, he said a third of the children suffer acute malnutrition.
A statement read by the U.N. Security Council president, Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu, said the council expressed its readiness to "act immediately" if President Kiir does not sign the agreement, or if he signs with reservations.
Ambassador Ogwu did not say explicitly if that meant the council would move to vote on a draft resolution circulated last week by the U.S. delegation seeking to impose a year-long arms embargo and designate new individuals for asset freezes and travel bans if the government failed to sign the deal. The U.S. proposal was met with resistance from several council members and negotiations have not yet yielded a compromise agreement.