Rowan Williams warns of growing violence in South Sudan

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan WilliamsReuters

Rowan Williams has spoken out against the recent eruption of violence in South Sudan, highlighting the plight of the poorest and most vulnerable who "as so often" are hit hardest by the loss of lives, loved ones and homes.

Speaking in his capacity as chair of Christian Aid, Dr Williams – who visited South Sudan with the charity in 2014 – said he was praying for peace in the country, where 300 lives have been lost and thousands displaced from their homes in the capital, Juba.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury said: "The recent escalation of violent conflict in Juba since July 7 has caused yet more appalling suffering for the people of South Sudan who 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. It is – as so often – the poorest and most vulnerable who bear the brunt of the violence, who have lost lives, loved ones and homes. Thousands of people have been displaced by the recent violence. Many have sought refuge in church compounds across Juba, seeking safety and protection. These people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. 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."

Dr Williams added that the international community must hold South Sudan leaders to account over the implementation of a fragile peace agreement. "The recent hostilities have demonstrated the fragility of the peace agreement," he said. "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. As the South Sudan Council of Churches says in its statement, 'The time for carrying and using weapons has ended; now is the time to build a peaceful nation.' I affirm and echo their cry for peace. I stand with them in praying that parties, communities and leaders do everything in their power to 'create an atmosphere where violence is not an option'."

As Christian Today has reported, fighting erupted in Juba between troops loyal to rivals President Salva Kiir and vice-president Riek Machar, amid rising fears that the country could slide back into civil war. South Sudan has already only just survived one internal battle since its secession from the North in 2011 – the anniversary of which it celebrated earlier this month – and a second would be catastrophic for the world's youngest country.