JUBA, South Sudan -- South Sudan's once-warring parties on Friday agreed to delay key next steps in a fragile peace deal by six months after the main opposition warned it might walk away.
The agreement came after closed-door talks in neighboring Ethiopia. The chairman of a smaller opposition party that attended, Denay J. Chagor, confirmed the details.
The extension needs approval next week by a council of regional foreign ministers from Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya and Uganda. Several attendees on Friday told The Associated Press they expect it to pass.
The government and main opposition were not immediately available for comment. The agreement on an extension is a change of heart for the government.
A May 12 deadline has loomed for opposition leader Riek Machar to return and again become President Salva Kiir's deputy in a power-sharing arrangement. But Machar's supporters say security arrangements are insufficient.
The peace deal that was signed in September ended a five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 and displaced millions. Key elements of the agreement have yet to be implemented, including drawing South Sudan's internal boundaries and creating a unified national army.
The six-month extension is welcome as long as "serious" work is done in the interim, German Ambassador Jan Hendrik van Thiel told the AP.
"If they agree and can plan to timely implement outstanding critical issues, namely on borders and credible security arrangements, and work on creating a free political space and free and fair elections on time, including reconciliation and transitional justice, a delay is better than a rush into an unprepared, non-consensual government," the ambassador said.
The previous peace deal signed in 2015 also had Machar return as Kiir's deputy but it ended in gunfire as new clashes erupted in the capital, Juba, in 2016, forcing Machar to flee the country on foot.
Some look at the new agreement with skepticism.
"Even if you give Salva Kiir and Riek Machar 1,000 years they will never implement any peace deal together. The duo should never work together. The (East African bloc) should try another formula," said Jacob Chol, senior political analyst and professor at the University of Juba.
The parties need to reach an agreement but the question is will "we be in any different position six months from now?" asked Alan Boswell, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.
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