Five of South Sudan’s senior political leaders who have been living in exile for more than two years returned to the capital Juba on Friday, boosting hopes that the newly signed accord between the warring sides of the country will bring a long sought after peace.
Among the five who returned was Rebecca Garang, the widow of John Garang de Mabior, who founded the South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and died in a plane crash in 2005, which led to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir's takeover of the party.
"We ask God to give us all the strength so that we implement this peace," Garang said on her return.
"I am here as a mother of people of South Sudan... all of us came, we are bringing peace, there is nothing else that we are bringing," she continued.
Rebel leader Riek Machar then founded the breakaway faction the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) before he was sacked as vice president by Kiir in 2013.
Garang along with several others joined the SPLM/A-IO, most of whom became political detainees until their exile to Kenya weeks later.
The other four who returned along with Garange were former National Security Minister Oyai Deng, former Defence Minister Majak d'Agoot, , former Justice Minister John Luk, and former Cabinet Minister Deng Alor.
"We have come home finally," Luk, who is also the spokesman for the group, said.
"As a result of the peace agreement that was signed and finalised in Ethiopia there is no further negotiation in Ethiopia. What is left for us is to implement what we had agreed. And, therefore, it requires that all of us are in South Sudan," he continued.
.South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth stated on Friday at the Juba International Airport, "The government of the Republic of South Sudan is happy to receive them back, everybody is yearning for the rest, especially the SPLM-IO to follow the suit and come back home since the peace implementation is no longer in Addis Ababa, but here in Juba."
The conflict in South Sudan, which emerged after the country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has resulted in the deaths of over 10,000 people and displaced more than 2.2 million others.
The country descended into chaos in December 2013 when a political row between Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar spiralled into armed conflict that reopened ethnic faultlines.
Since Dec. 2014, negotiations between the South Sudanese government and SPLM/A-IO were put off. However, since then, the African Union have been trying to get the negotiations between the two factions back on track in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
On Oct. 26, the warring sides agreed in Addis Ababa to establish a joint police force and implement the demilitarisation of the capital city, following a deadlock in the peace accord signed by Kiir and Machar in August.
The agreement states that a 3,000-strong Joint Integrated Police Force - 1,500 from each warring factions - will be assembled for an interim period of 30 months.
"The Presidential Guard shall be limited to 1,000, [while] the first vice president’s protection detail shall be limited to 300," the agreement said.
It also adds that the capital city of Juba and 25 kilometers surrounding it will become a demilitarised zone, while 5,000 lightly-armed guards will protect barracks, bases and warehouses.
Another agreement, which was signed in Addis Ababa on Nov. 4, reads that the SPLM/A-IO headed by Machar will enter Juba to begin the 30-month Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) and officially end the 21 months of war.
The interim period is anticipated to last for a period of two-and-a-half years during which the army, which is currently split into two between the warring groups, is expected to be reunited.