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South Sudan ‘at breaking point’

10 January 2014


Displaced: fugitives from Bor wade through mud

Displaced: fugitives from Bor wade through mud

THE Archbishop of Sudan and South Sudan, the Dr Daniel Deng, has called on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the wider Anglican Communion to pray for the victims of the conflict in South Sudan, and to lobby their governments to help stop the violence.

In a letter to Archbishop Welby on Monday, Dr Deng said that at least 500 people had died in the capital, Juba, and hundreds more elsewhere; and that some 75,000 had fled the town of Bor.

"We, as the Church, are deeply concerned and worried that if the situation is not contained it will lead into chaos which will be uncontrollable," Dr Deng wrote. "Also, we are worried that the fighting may turn into genocide, or ethnic cleansing. The situation is more desperate, as there is no clean water to drink, little food to eat, no good sanitation, and a lack of health facilities."

The latest fighting began in December, when rebels loyal tothe former Vice-President, Riek Machar, reportedly tried to seize power in Juba. Mr Machar denies attempting a coup. Government forces have now retaken Juba, but control of Bor, in Jonglei State, has swung between the army and various rebels. President Salva Kiir is from the Dinka tribe, while Mr Machar is from the Neur group, and there are concerns that what began as a political conflict may set one tribe against another.

In an interview with the BBC on 2 January, the Bishop of Bor, the Rt Revd Ruben Akurdit Ngong, explained what had happened in the town. "We heard gunshots, and [saw] the rebels running towards Bor town. So everyone started fleeing in different directions. The rebels are advancing, so the civilian population becomes vulnerable.

"You find dead bodies everywhere - you move around closing your nose. The government and the rebels are not in control: they are just fighting each other."

Dr Deng told BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme that the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ECSSS) had been talking to the government. "I think our President has listened to us," he said. "It is simply a power struggle, but the other parties want to use this as a tribal thing. But we deny this has anything to do with tribes. There is no cause for people to die, because it is a political issue which can be easily solved. We want the outside world to pressurise the two parties to bring peace."

On Sunday, the British Government announced that a plane loaded with water and sanitation equipment from Oxfam had landed in Juba to help combat the humanitarian crisis. The Department for International Development had earlier pledged £12.5 million in emergency aid.

The UN estimates that 194,000 people have been forced from their homes since December. In response to Dr Deng's letter, Archbishop Welby has written to every Anglican Primate and moderator, warning that the crisis in South Sudan has reached "breaking point", and asking for prayer.

The diocese of Salisbury has a 40-year connection with Sudan, and now South Sudan. The vice-chairman of the diocese's Sudan Link, the Revd Ian Woodward, said this week that the ECSSS's relief agency SUDRA was in the process of assessing needs.

"We are obviously very sad about [the conflict]," he said. "People are taking refuge within the church and cathedral compounds. We are offering immediate help to the Archbishop because, in his home compound, hundreds of people have taken refuge. They need water, food, medicines, and security. It's very much an emergency response."

Peace talks between the two sides have begun in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, has flown to Juba to discuss the conflict with Mr Kiir. South Sudan fought a long civil war with Sudan before finally becoming an independent nation in 2011. Most of the oilfields, vital for both nations, ended up in South Sudan after the secession, but rebels have seized Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity State.

Little progress has been made at the peace talks so far, however. The South Sudanese Foreign Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, told the Radio 4 Today programme on Monday: "We must recognise that this was an attempted coup in order to take power by removing a democratically chosen government."

Mr Benjamin said that the struggle between Mr Kiir and Mr Machar was at the heart of the fighting, but, if Mr Machar wanted to rule South Sudan, he must stand for election, and not seek power through violence.

But he also said: "The process is not about the two leaders, but the suffering people. First of all, [we need] the cessation of hostilities, so the displaced populations have peace - it's not about what jobs these two men do."

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