Rebel chief Riek Machar (L) and South Sudan's President (C) attend peace deal talks in Addis Ababa on August 17, 2015
Juba (AFP) - South Sudan's government on Tuesday slammed a peace proposal that they are under intense diplomatic pressure to sign after rebels agreed to the deal to end the country's brutal civil war.
"We strongly believe that this document cannot save the people of South Sudan," Information Minister Michael Makuei told reporters, as President Salva Kiir returned home from peace talks in Ethiopia.
"It is a sellout, and we will not accept it," Makuei said, adding the government would now discuss the deal with the people for 15 days.
With diplomatic frustrations at breaking point over a conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives, the international community had threatened possible sanctions if a deal was not reached by the end of Monday, urging the government to sign it.
"Failing to comply would entail consequences," the European Union said Tuesday, while the United States said Washington "would consider ways to raise the cost for intransigence."
Rebel chief Riek Machar signed the deal late Monday, calling on Kiir to join.
- Rebel splits -
But Kiir -- who watched the signing and briefly shook hands with Machar -- had warned from the start of talks that it would not be possible to sign a credible peace deal because rebel forces have split.
"We objected to it. There are disputed provisions and there are outstanding issues that need to be negotiated and agreed upon," said Makuei, head of the government delegation to the talks.
"If you –- people of South Sudan -- say that (we should) go and sign it, we will do so -- but I doubt if people will say so," Makuei added.
Key issues of disagreement are understood to include details of a power-sharing proposal between the government and rebels, which could see Machar return as vice-president.
But powerful rebel general Peter Gadet and other key commanders last week accused Machar of seeking power for himself, and said they would not recognise any deal agreed.
The peace proposal has been put forward by the regional eight-nation bloc IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, as well as the United Nations, African Union, China and the "troika" of Britain, Norway and the United States.
- 'Unimaginable destruction' -
South Sudan's civil war erupted in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.
At least seven ceasefires have already been agreed and then shattered within days -- if not hours -- in the world's newest country, which broke away from Sudan in 2011.
AU chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has warned the failure to strike an agreement "will have far-reaching consequences for South Sudan, the region and the continent as a whole."
In a signal of the dire conditions on the ground, the number sheltering inside UN peacekeeper bases has risen by a third in just over a month to almost 200,000 civilians, the UN mission said Monday.
Marked by widespread atrocities on both sides, the war has been characterised by ethnic massacres and rape.
Recent attacks have included castration, burning people alive and tying children together before slitting their throats.
Aid agencies on Tuesday pleaded for a ceasefire to end the "unimaginable destruction", in a joint statement from Oxfam, CARE and the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
"Without peace, there will only be more fighting, more death," said Simon Chol Mialith from CARE. "As a nation we are only four years old. I can only pray we will make it to five."