South Sudan’s president has said he would return to a system of 10 states from 32, a key opposition demand, paving the way for a unity government and an end to the country’s civil war.
“The compromise we have made today is a painful decision but a necessary one if that is what brings peace”, Salva Kiir said in a statement on Saturday. “I expect the opposition to be prepared to do the same.”
There was no immediate comment from rebel leader and the former vice president, Riek Machar.
International pressure by the United States and others had been building on Kiir and Machar to meet the February 22 deadline to again join forces in a transitional government.
The deadline has been extended twice in the past year.
When it gained independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan had 10 states, as set out in its constitution. In 2015, Kiir increased that to 28 and then later to 32.
Kiir had repeatedly refused to back down on the number of states but has come under intense international pressure to compromise.
Machar previously said he could not return to his previous vice president position if the status quo on states remained.
Kiir and Machar agreed on a peace deal in 2018, pressured by the United Nations, the US and countries in the region.
Under the deal, the two agreed to form a unity government in May 2019 but missed the deadline amid disputes over territory and security arrangements.
A second deadline of November last year was also missed and pushed back by 100 days, prompting Washington to recall its ambassador and impose sanctions on senior officials for their role in perpetuating the conflict.
South Sudan’s five-year civil war, which erupted just two years following independence from Sudan, killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions.
The economy was shattered and nearly half the country remains in a severe hunger crisis.