South Sudanese Church leaders have expressed shock and distress at renewed fighting in Juba city, where armed soldiers have clashed since Friday.
According to the BBC, the latest round of violence erupted when troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and first vice president Riek Machar began shooting at each other in the streets of Juba. At least 300 people have been killed in the latest round of fighting which has come nearly two months after Kiir and the former rebel leader Machar allied to form a unified government. The formation of the government partnership on the surface appeared to have ended the fighting between the two sides, which had begun in 2013.
But on Friday, heavy gunfire ended the lull, as rival soldiers started fighting near the presidential palace. By Monday, the fighting had reportedly spread to the airport and the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. It had also displaced thousands civilians.
“We, the leaders of the Church in South Sudan, are extremely disturbed about the fatal shootings which occurred in Juba on the evenings of July 7 and 8, and the morning of July 10,” said Catholic priest, Fr James Oyet Latansio, the secretary general of the South Sudan Council of Churches in a statement.
Due to being pinned down by the fighting other church leaders were not able to sign the statement, and it could only be read on radio. Fr Latansio said that the churches were making no judgement as to how or why the fighting occurred, nor did they blame anybody for it, but noted with concern that there have been a number of incidents recently, and that tension is increasing.
“We condemn all acts of violence without exception. The time for carrying and using weapons has ended; now is the time to build a peaceful nation,” stressed the leader.
According to Latansio the church leaders urging repentance and a firm commitment from all armed individuals, forces and communities, and from their leaders, to create an atmosphere where violence is not an option.
President Kiir and First Vice President Machar have since called for calm, as it appeared that they had both lost control of their soldiers. The UN Security Council has expressed shock and outrage at the attacks on UN compounds, while urging the protection of civilians.
The clerics said that they were adding their voices to those of the leaders and urged soldiers and civilians to refrain from provocative words and actions, and to do everything in their power to avoid escalating the situation.
The latest killings have not been confined to Juba. A recent killing in Wau town had extremely distressed church leaders there, so much that a furious Apostolic Administrator Rocco Taban had described the country’s political leaders as "criminals", "devils" and "monkeys".
The church leaders said that they are also concerned that the latest armed clashes are not confined to Juba and noted the shooting death in May of Holy Spirit Missionary Sister Veronika Terezia Rackova, director of St. Bakhita Medical Center in Yei, a city about 100 miles east of Juba, and other deaths "so common that they pass almost unnoticed."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the "senseless violence" in a Jstatement, noting that the fighting "has the potential of reversing the progress made so far in the peace process."