East African states have agreed to send troops to conflict-hit South Sudan to help enforce a ceasefire deal between the government of President Salva Kiir and rebels led by his ex-deputy.
The decision was made after leaders from the East African bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), convened in Addis Ababa on Thursday.
Under the agreement, Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda will send troops to South Sudan while Djibouti is also expected to join the mission. The force will seek logistical support from the African Union and the United Nations Security Council.
“These troops are envisaged to be on the ground by no later than mid-April,” Seyoum Mesfin, chief mediator of peace talks between South Sudan’s warring sides, told reporters in Addis Ababa.
The one-day IGAD meeting was held amid reports of fresh clashes in the strategic oil city of Malakal, which has switched hands several times.
Clashes in South Sudan erupted on the outskirts of the capital, Juba, on December 15, 2013, with President Kiir accusing his sacked deputy, Riek Machar, of leading a coup attempt against his government.
The fighting soon took on an ethnic dimension that pitted the president’s Dinka ethnic group against members of Machar’s Nuer tribe.
The conflict has killed thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands internally displaced.
Fighting continues in South Sudan despite an IGAD-brokered ceasefire agreement on January 23.
Officials say that South Sudan’s oil production has been slashed by almost a third since violence broke out in the country, with some of the heaviest fighting in oil producing areas.