Church leaders in South Sudan condemn violence

Published 20 December 2013  |  
AP

Church leaders in South Sudan have released a letter expressing their deep sadness at the escalating violence in the country and appealing for calm.

The letter from the South Sudan Council of Churches calls upon the Government to "take control of the situation and protect its citizens".

Up to 500 people have been killed in clashes between rival factions following an attempted coup by soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir's former deputy Riek Machar, who was removed from office in July after accusing Kiir of dictatorship.

The government has failed to establish a peaceful and stable state since declaring independence from Sudan in 2011, and there has been significant political unrest.

Different ethnic groups have fought with one another for years, and media reports suggest that once again the country is splitting along ethnic lines.

Soldiers from the president's majority Dinka tribe attempted to disarm guards from the Nuer ethic group following unrest near a ruling party conference and an attack on army headquarters in the capital city of Juba on Sunday.

The violence has since spread out into the rest of the country and the government has admitted that it has lost control of the regional capital of Bor, and thousands of civilians are seeking refuge in UN bases.

The letter, however, suggests that the fighting is not in fact an ethnic issue, but a political one.

"These are political differences among the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) Party and political leaders of the Republic of South Sudan," the letter reads.

Church officials have asked members of the Dinka and Nuer tribes not to accept the characterisation of the conflict as of a battle between their tribes.

The letter, whose signatories include Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, appeals to the government to protect its citizens and condemns the senseless violence.

"We are concerned about the reports of abuse, harassment and killing of individual citizens based on their ethnic affiliation...We condemn such acts of abuse and hope that no more human live should be lost."

Church leaders are asking for justice, peace and reconciliation between political parties, and are also calling for the international community to take urgent action.

"We appeal to our political leaders to refrain from hate speeches that may incite and escalate the violence. We urge to initiate dialogues and resolve issues amicably.

"We appeal to the international community to respond fast and positively to the humanitarian crisis which has developed in the last three days," the letter says.

The appeal come just days after the newly elected moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee called on the South Sudan government to emulate the principles heralded by the late Nelson Mandela in light of the recent violence.

"Just when we have laid Mandela to rest and we are celebrating his life of forgiveness and reconciliation, of justice, of freedom, of the capacity to be content and to be inclusive: this is really a lesson for South Sudan," Dr Agnes Abuom said.

The nation "needs a lot of latitude for different voices given its multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious composition," she asserted.

 "South Sudan needs now, and it is called, to develop a culture of democracy that supports different opinions even when they are not congruent with what the leadership expects, because that is a democracy."

Christian Aid has voiced concern about human rights abuses and violence particularly in the capital city of Juba in Central Equatoria and Jonglei state in the remote east of the country.

It says an estimated 20,000 civilians have sought shelter in two UNMISS compounds in Juba since the crisis began, with an estimated 14,000 more sheltering in the UN compound in Bor, Jonglei.

"Human rights violations must be avoided at all costs, particularly the targeting of specific communities and potential retaliation attacks between ethnic groups," said Amos Nderi, Christian Aid's South Sudan country manager.

"The complex political and ethnic divisions that exist can only be resolved through long-term dialogue and reconciliation work.

"We need the UK Government to support a democratically functioning South Sudan state in the longer term by using their influence to encourage respect for human rights, good governance, democracy and active civil society."

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