(Adds quotes from mediator, details, background)
By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, March 13 East African states agreed
on Thursday to deploy troops in South Sudan by mid-April to help
enforce a ceasefire deal between government forces and rebels,
the chief mediator in peace talks between the two sides said.
South Sudan's neighbours fear unrest in the world's newest
country could spill beyond its borders and destabilise a
volatile region which has in recent years enjoyed strong
At a summit in the Ethiopian capital, leaders from the
regional bloc IGAD agreed to a force whose mandate would be
"protection and deterrence", an official said, including the
protection of vital installations such as oilfields.
"These troops are envisaged to be on the ground by no later
than mid-April," Seyoum Mesfin, chief mediator of the peace
talks between South Sudan's feuding sides, told journalists.
Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda will contribute troops
while Djibouti is also expected to join, he said.
All except Rwanda already contribute to the 22,000-strong
African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia which is battling al
Rwanda has sent peacekeepers to the Sudanese region of
Darfur and Central African Republic.
The bloc's decision comes at a time when peace talks have
been making little headway towards ending more than two months
of fighting in the oil-producing country.
Seyoum criticised both sides for dragging their feet in
implementing the ceasefire, and said the bloc hoped to deploy at
least a smaller contingent by mid-April.
"Whatever we get we will send on the ground. If we get a
hundred, two hundred, a thousand, one thousand five hundred,
they should be on the ground," he said.
"We should not wait until all the countries prepare and tell
you that they will send."
Thousands of civilians have been killed in the violence.
The negotiations, meant to thrash out a deal on political
reform after a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and
his sacked deputy Riek Machar sparked the unrest, are now due to
resume on March 20.
(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Sophie