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Sudanese bishops remain optimistic

14 February 2014

REUTERS

Manpower: rebel fighters gather in a village in South Sudan, on Saturday

Manpower: rebel fighters gather in a village in South Sudan, on Saturday

GIVEN the grim news from the UN about the world's newest country, it might be expected that those playing host to two bishops from South Sudan at Canterbury Cathedral last week would have had to offer them consolation. In fact, both bishops were optimistic about the future.

"We are confident that a solution will come," the Assistant Bishop of Juba, the Rt Revd Fraser Yugu Elias Lado, said. "These people are brothers; it is just like a quarrel."

He was referring to the parties engaged in continuing skirmishes after the alleged coup attempt in December (News, 20 December). Although a ceasefire was signed last month, both sides have accused the other of breaching it. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the conflict, and the UN warned last week that nearly two-thirds of the population was at risk of food insecurity.

Bishop Lado said that Juba was enjoying relative peace, and hoped that peace talks, which are to take place in Addis Ababa this week, would produce a solution. The Church, he said, had a crucial part to play in reconciliation, which was necessary, given the bloody civil war that led to the country's birth.

"There are so many things that came out of the war. People were traumatised by it. . . That is why reconciliation is very, very im-portant, and the healing of the nation."

He pointed to the appointment of the Archbishop of Sudan & South Sudan, Dr Daniel Deng, as chair of the country's Committee for National Healing, Peace, and Reconciliation, as evidence of the fact that "the government trusted the Church, and because it is a Church, people listen to it." The work would cascade downthrough the dioceses to grassroots level, he said. Last month, the rebel leader David Yau Yau, a former theology student, signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, after negotiations led by church leaders. Bishop Lado pointed to the good relationships with the minority Muslim population: "They are our brothers. They are Southerners. In my family we have Muslims, and we live together. When it comes to Christmas, we celebrate, and when it comes to Ramadan, we celebrate." He denied that the current conflict was an ethnic one.

The Bishop of Cueibet, the Rt Revd Elijah Awet, was more circumspect about progress in Addis Ababa. "What is happening there [in areas of conflict] is not an organised thing," he said. "There are those forces recognised by the rebel leader, and others just jumping in to benefit from the situation, by robbing, and raiding cows. These people will not be controlled bythe ceasefire - this is what Iknow."

He questioned whether agreements were being made "for the welfare of the international community, not for the welfare of the local community on the ground", and spoke of people "addicted to rebellion. . . It is not ethnic fighting, it is a coup. But because we do not know how to manage when it fails, it has changed to become ethnic fighting."

His diocese of Cueibet borders Unity State, a rebel stronghold; and some who have since defected back to the government had been displaced, he said. "The Church is talking with the community to welcome them, and not treat them as the enemy but a brother."

Like Bishop Lado, he emphasised South Sudan's potential, including its water, and its fertile land: "There is no place where you cannot do something. . . These crops will support the nation, and could be exported to another country that has no land for production."

In future, South Sudan could host migrants from other countries, he said. "We are peaceful. The problem is just in a few areas. . . We hope that soon there will be no problems. The peace will resume very quickly."

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