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Hopes for a liberated nation of South Sudan characterised by equality and peace appear to have been “shattered”, the Church has said.
The bishops of Sudan and South Sudan, who continue to operate as a single bishops’ conference since secession by the South in 2011, said the two-and-a-half-year-old nation is caught in “a time of crisis, perhaps one of the gravest situations we have ever faced”.
The bishops were meeting in Juba, the South Sudanese capital, from 22 to 29 January. They blamed the rising tensions on poor governance, corruption and nepotism and stressed the ceasefire signed on 23 January must be obeyed.
Soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir have been fighting troops led by his former deputy Riek Machar since 15 December. More than 500,000 people have fled their homes and thousands have been killed.
The East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is to send monitors to see if the ceasefire will be observed. Assistance may also be provided by the United States, Britain, Norway and China.
But the bishops criticised the decision to exclude them from playing a role in the peace talks. “In 2013, Churches were asked to lead the Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation, and to negotiate an end to the rebellion led by David Yau Yau in Jonglei State; in 2012, a Church leader was asked to chair the Jonglei peace process; previously Church leaders were asked to negotiate with George Athor. Why are Church and civic leaders now excluded from the ongoing IGAD talks? Why is it that only those who took up arms are discussing the future of our country? What is the legitimacy of any agreement signed in Addis Ababa built on military groups determining our future?” they asked.
Yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, met President Kiir and called on both sides to end the fighting. After the meeting in Juba he warned that reconciliation would “be hard work indeed”.