South Sudan's government and National Salvation Front (NAS) rebels agreed on Wednesday to a meeting between their military commanders, while falling short of committing to an existing ceasefire.Instead, the two groups meeting in Rome pledged to work "towards" the ceasefire signed in January, which has failed to bring calm to the war-torn region.
Talks between government envoy Barnaba Marial Benjamin and NAS leader Thomas Cirillo Swaka took place in Rome under the auspices of the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic association with ties to the Vatican that has been working to restore stability to South Sudan, where a civil war has been fought since December 2013.
"Today we have been able to rebuild trust between the parties," Paolo Impagliazzo, secretary general of Sant'Egidio, told a press conference.
"The meetings held in Rome have had a very important result... the commitment of the parties towards the cease-fire."
Parties decided to hold a meeting between the military commanders "so that the opposition is included in the mechanism for monitoring violations of the ceasefire," he said, without providing a date.
"The aim is for the military to talk to each other and respect the ceasefire."
Fighting regularly takes place in the south of the country between the army and the NAS, which did not sign a September 2018 peace agreement that led to the formation of a government of national unity in March this year.
Cirillo was one of the parties to a ceasefire signed in Rome in January between the government in Juba and members of the Southern Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOMA), but it has not been respected.
The government and NAS also decided Wednesday on a date for a political, not military, meeting in late November, to discuss topics from the constitution to reform of the security sector.
The civil war erupted in December 2013 after South Sudanese President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy and fellow former rebel leader, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup.
About 380,000 people have died in the conflict -- marked by atrocities and the use of rape as a weapon of war -- and some four million have fled their homes.
The September 2018 peace agreement led to a sharp decline in fighting, but did not stop it entirely.
In April 2019, Pope Francis arranged a meeting between Kiir and Machar at the Vatican, in which he knelt to kiss their feet, imploring for peace.