Bishops broker South Sudan peace deal: 'They have forgiven each other'

Participants celebrate the signing of an agreement to stop fighting in Wonduruba, South Sudan.Radio Tamazuj

South Sudanese church leaders have helped broker a reconciliation between community representatives and an armed group in the country's Central Equatoria State.

South Sudan became independent in 2011 and has suffered from internal conflict ever since. There are at least seven armed groups operating in nine of its 10 states.

A civil war broke out in December 2013 representing a political and tribal power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar, as the president accused Machar and 10 others of attempting a coup d'état. The conflict has drawn in fighters from Uganda. Around 100,000 people have died, 1 million are internally displaced and more than 400,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.

Sudan's army, the SPLA, has been accused of widespread torture and other atrocities, including horrific violence against women. A 2010 CIA report said that "over the next five years...a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in southern Sudan".

According to Radio Tamazuj, the agreement in Wonduruba is between local people and a unit of the SPLA.

It was witnessed by Lainya County Commissioner Augustino Kiri Gwolo, SPLA Maj Gen Johnson Juma Akot and the Bishops of Wonduruba and Mundri.

"People were very happy, they were jubilating, they were dancing – both army and civilians – we have witnessed dancing, we have seen smiles once again in the faces of the people and people are very happy with this initiative," said Bishop Paul Yogusuk.

Speaking at a community briefing yesterday in the capital, Juba, Yogusuk said that God had sent the church leaders to Wonduruba on a "ministry of reconciliation".

"What is important in the agreement is that the Wonduruba community and the SPLA have ended the conflict. They have forgiven [each other] ," he said.

The agreement comes after allegations that the SPLA unit in Wonduruba terrorised citizens and looted and burnt homes in the village and surrounding areas. The civilian population fled.

Yogosuk said that the SPLA should investigate soldiers who allegedly committed crimes.

Juma Stephen, Wonduruba community representative, said: "This peace initiative it is a breakthrough because the people of Wonduruba are suffering and displaced in several areas."

Bishop Yogosuk called for the immediate resumption of civil administration, saying that said the governor of the state would send "local administration and organized forces" to Wonduruba, after which displaced people would start to resettle.