Madagascan parties on Saturday signed an agreement that could allow the return of former president Marc Ravalomanana whose ouster in 2009 plunged the country into a political paralysis.
Ravalomanana's grouping and that of Albert Zafy, another former president, inked the deal that had already been signed by eight other political groups to resolve the island nation's protracted crisis.
However, the political movement of ex-president Didier Ratsiraka did not sign the deal brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), an AFP correspondent reported.
The agreement had stuttered after an SADC June summit called for the unconditional return of Ravalomanana who is in exile in South Africa, a move rejected by Madagascar's strongman Andry Rajoelina.
Rajoelina, who seized power in March 2009 after an army-backed coup, agreed to Ravalomanana's return following lengthy negotiations.
Howevever, Ravalomanana's return remains doubtful as he faces life in prison back home after being sentenced in absentia for the 2009 killing of protestors by his presidential guard during violent street demonstrations that led to his overthrow.
In the agreement's annex, SADC said returning Madagascans would not benefit from immunity from prosecution because the grouping does not have the right to "interefere with or annul a judicial sentence by a national court."
Nonetheless, Mamy Rakotoarivelo, Ravalomanana's representative at the Saturday signing said the former president could "return as soon as new transitional institutions are set up."
The agreement also calls for a power-sharing arrangement by the signatories until presidential and parliamentary elections are held, with Rajoelina in the interim remaining the president.
"This is the beginning of the process and not the end," said Marius Fransman, South African deputy foreign minister and a member of the SADC negotiating team.