Church leaders provide sanctuary for victims of South Sudan's latest descent into violence

South Sudan civilians clean the streets of dried blood from an unidentified soldier who was killed following the recent fighting outside the Presidential State House in Juba on July 14Reuters

Up to 1,000 families sought sanctuary in the Anglican cathedral in the South Sudan capital of Juba as the country continues its descent into violence and bloodshed.

The Anglican Alliance, which supports the Anglican response to emergencies throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion, is helping to co-ordinate the response and is working with the local church.

The Sudanese Development and Relief Agency, a body of the local church, has pleaded for aid to help feed 14,400 internally displaced people, many of them children, women and elderly people in Juba, Kajokeji, Yei, Lainya, and Rajaf. Many have sought refuge in other churches besides the cathedral.

Many are also afraid to go back home because they fear the ceasefire will not hold. Those who have gone back have often found their homes looted and destroyed. Nearly 300 people died in the latest clashes.

Markets have also been looted, so food shortages are likely soon.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, recently lamented the escalation of violence. He fears it "has caused yet more appalling suffering for the people of South Sudan."

Dr Williams, chairman of Christian Aid, said that the country's people have, over the past two and a half years, endured the terrible consequences of a return to war and the bitter disappointment of hopes denied or deferred.

He said: "For too long, women, children, and men in this nation have struggled to continue with their daily lives against the threat of food shortages, widespread displacement, economic crisis, and the trauma of murderous conflict.

"The recent hostilities have demonstrated the fragility of the peace agreement. They have underscored the need for the international community to call the leaders of South Sudan to account in implementing the promise of peace.

"They have shown just how much is at stake in this for future generations in South Sudan: if the next generation is to inherit anything more than devastation, resentment and failed hopes, urgent action is imperative in ending this conflict.

"As they did through decades of civil war, the churches once again stand as one of the few signs of hope, giving voice to the needs of the people of South Sudan. Their commitment to working for peace and reconciliation is as strong as ever."

The UN peace-keeping mission in South Sudan told journalists that the agency had received "deeply disturbing" reports of sexual violence, including rape, being carried out by soldiers in uniform.

Its sister-agency, the UN High Commission for Refugees, reported that more than 5,000 people have fled to neighbouring Uganda since the latest violence in the country erupted on 7 July.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 as part of an agreement to end civil war. South Sudan has since then suffered its own civil war, fights and conflicts as different factions struggle for political power.