- ‘Do you hear the cry of the poor?’
The fate of millions of people in this war-ravaged corner of East Africa depends on an uncertain peace agreement signed this week. A former British government minister, just back from visiting refugee projects in the area, assesses the country’s prospects
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South Sudan is already in a civil war, an expert on the country has warned.
John Ashworth, a Mill Hill Missionary who has worked in the region since 1982 and advises the Church there, said that fighting between the Government and rebels was largely confined to three of the 10 states but “explosions of violence” had now spread across the country.
The Church has repeatedly called for peace and it sheltered thousands at the start of the conflict, he added, but said that rebels had started targeting the churches where civilians hid.
In the north-eastern Diocese of Malakal, “people were being killed in churches, young girls being taken out of the churches and raped. The Anglican Church had some of its women deacons raped and killed inside a church. It’s getting more widespread.”
Speaking to The Tablet on a visit to the UK he praised the Catholic agencies Cafod and Caritas for providing aid.
He called on the international community to back the peace process, but said that it must not take over. “It has to be a South Sudanese and an African process,” he said. “This time round we need a solution which really involves the people.”
Much of the conflict arose from problems that emerged when South Sudan seceded in 2011 such as corruption and nepotism, he added, as well as a failure to build national identity. “South Sudanese have always defined themselves as not ‘something’ – Arabs, Muslims. We’ve started to see xenophobia springing up: people are turning against each other but haven’t defined what they are themselves.”