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Aid workers die in crossfire in Sudan

12 July 2013

by Pat Ashworth


In line: displaced women wait at a food distribution centre in Darfur

In line: displaced women wait at a food distribution centre in Darfur

TWO aid workers from World Vision, Ali Ibrahim and Sabil Mansour, died in Sudan last week when their compound was caught in crossfire between government troops and rebels in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. A third, critically injured, worker was airlifted to Khartoum. On Wednesday, World Vision announced that it was suspending aid work in South Darfur, in the light of the deaths and of increased violence and looting.

Venant Tumwine, of World Vision, who was in the guest house at the time of the shooting, described the grenade attack as traumatising, "a harrowing experience." He praised World Vision national staff members who had risked their lives during the fighting to take the injured to Nyala hospital, which was dealing with "an overwhelming number of people".

The UN described the attack, in which a total of six people died, and 21 were injured, as a heinous act.

Aid workers in the region have warned of a "second Darfur", a reference to the conflict in western Sudan between government troops and rebel forces, which broke out in 2003 and in which an estimated 200,000 people were killed and 2.7 million displaced. A ceasefire was agreed in 2010, but hundreds of thousands of people there are still dependent on international aid.

The mood of euphoria that followed the independence of South Sudan on 9 July 2011 seemed now like "a fading memory", the head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, told the Security Council on Monday.

"We have since seen many setbacks and problems and tensions, with Sudan driving decisions that were challenged by many, including this Council," she said, describing the security situation in Jonglei state as a significant challenge. Fighting between government forces and armed groups there has displaced thousands of people since January, compounding the refugee crisis.

The Archbishop of Sudan, Dr Daniel Deng, has called on the people of South Sudan to be united in the interests of achieving lasting national healing, peace, and reconciliation. He was appointed by the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, to chair the national reconciliation committee, to help heal the country's "mental wounds".

He has been frank about the culpability of all in the tribal conflicts. "We have to recognise that we have wounded ourselves through cattle stolen from each other, abducted women and children, land grabbed," he said in a strategy paper published last week. "We have killed and wounded one another, and destroyed our own property. We have spawned a culture of violence, corruption, nepotism, and inequity. We cannot continue. Enough is enough."

Forgiveness was the "bitter pill" that every South Sudanese had to swallow, he said. "We have to swallow our pride for the sake of our young nation. The pride of clan, of political party, and of personal ambition must not obscure the focus on the future of our nation."

He expanded on that theme in an interview with the Anglican Communion News Service, suggesting that lack of training for clergy was a factor in some of the tribal conflicts. As a result of poor teaching, many Christians lacked the "spiritual and social transformation that comes with the gospel. . .

"A good example is the issue of tribal conflicts in South Sudan, which are driven mainly by cattle rustling done by Christians themselves. . . If these Christians were really taught to understand the great commandment of loving your neighbour as yourself, that alone could reduce these conflicts."

During the conflict in Darfur, bishops were forced to resort to mass ordinations, where hundreds of young people were ordained without any theological training, in order to minister to an influx of newly baptised believers. Access to Bishop Gwynne College, at the time the only theological college, was impossible because of rebel activity. Now hopes are being pinned on the recently established St John's Theological College, for which the Bishop is seeking financial help from well-wishers in the Communion.


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