The U.N. Security Council is welcoming the signing of a cease-fire agreement between armed groups in the Central African Republic and calling on all parties to immediately implement it.

A press statement approved by all 15 council members Thursday underlined that the agreement is "a first step in a wider political process ... of ensuring durable peace, respect for human rights, protection of civilians and the rule of law."

Thousands have been killed since a political crisis deepened in December, igniting unprecedented violence between Christian and Muslim communities. Representatives of the Muslim and Christian factions signed the agreement Wednesday in neighboring Republic of Congo.

The Security Council stressed the need to address the underlying causes of the conflict through political dialogue and national reconciliation.