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Dr Deng finds hope in South Sudan peace accord

16 May 2014


Holding hands: Dr Deng (centre), prays with the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir (left), and the rebel leader Riek Machar (right), in Addis Ababa, before they signed a cease­fire agreement in the South Sudan conflict

Holding hands: Dr Deng (centre), prays with the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir (left), and the rebel leader Riek Machar (right), in Addis Abab...

THE Archbishop of Sudan and South Sudan, Dr Daniel Deng Bul, speaking on Thursday evening last week in London, said that he remained "hopeful" about the prospects for peace in South Sudan. The next day, in Addis Ababa, he held the hands of the country's two political rivals in prayer, before they signed a peace agreement.

In London for a meeting of the Anglican Communion Standing Committee, Dr Deng left early after being summoned to take part in negotiations on Friday between the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, and the man accused of launching a coup against him, Riek Machar ( News, 20 December). The two men agreed to a ceasefire and the creation of a transitional government.

Dr Deng was one of several church leaders present in Addis Ababa, including the RC Archbishop of Juba, the Most Revd Paulino Lukudu Loro FSCJ.

Shortly before the agreement was reached, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on Mr Kiir and Dr Machar to secure peace "before the fire they have ignited [brings] the entire country down in flames". She suggested that a UN report on human rights violations in South Sudan, published last week, included "many of the precursors of genocide: hate media including calls to rape women of a particular ethnic group; attacks on civilians in hospitals, churches, and mosques; even attacks on people sheltering in UN compounds - all on the basis of the victims' ethnicity". Based on more than 900 eyewitness interviews, the report accuses both parties to the conflict of "gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law".

Since the crisis erupted last December, thousands of people have been killed, more than a million have been displaced, and nearly five million have been left in need of humanitarian assistance.

Within hours of the agreement, however, there were signs of its disintegrating. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said on Monday that he was "troubled by the accusations by both sides of breaches of the ceasefire already, and I urge maximum restraint by all parties".

On Thursday of last week, Dr Deng, who was appointed to chair South Sudan's national reconciliation committee last year, had denied that it was primarily an ethnic conflict: "This is political, not ethnic. . . . We have been living for hundreds of years together. . . We never fought on ethnicity before; so that is why we are dismissing it. . . When people are quarrelling, it is not about ethnicity: it is a struggle for wealth."

Last week, however, the head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, spoke of two "particularly horrific" incidents: a mass killing in a police station near Juba, and the killing of 200 people in Bentiu two weeks ago. In both instances, the killings were "clearly ethnically motivated", she said.

Church leaders have sought to emphasise the complexity of the conflict. The Archbishop of Canterbury told the Episcopal News Service (ENS) last Friday that "to simplify it to the degree of saying that it is a tribal conflict is insane. It's a mixture of things. . .

"It has a very strong economic element. It's very strongly to do with development and the allocation of resources within that development. It has a lot to do with issues of justice, of accountability, and non-impunity. And I think it has a lot to do with leadership. And there are probably a million other reasons I haven't thought of and don't know enough about. All I know is that when we simplify conflicts, we drive out approaches to resolution."

CHRISTIANS must be "battering on the gates of heaven in prayer" for South Sudan, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Thursday. In a video of his interview with the ENS, he described the horrors he had witnessed on his visit to Bor in January (News, 7 February), where he consecrated a mass grave: "We stood with the bodies at our feet, and the smell of death around us and we prayed. . . [There were] perhaps six thousand dead, perhaps more. Half of them buried. All the women raped. The most atrocious sexual violence. It was very overwhelming, very desperate and shocking."

In addition to "remorseless, unceasing prayer", it was important to take practical measures, he said: "Prevent the supply of arms, hold up to ignominy those who fuel the conflict in one way or another. Thirdly, make it clear that there will be no impunity for war crimes, of which there are many, and fourthly, equip those, particularly like the bishops, who will be responsible for developing a culture of a society of reconciliation. Fifthly, meet the needs of the refugees and IDPs."

He found hope in the work of the Church in the country, and evidence of "what Anglicans, by the grace of God, seem to be really rather good at doing, which is building bridges everywhere. It's the churches that are the most effective network of support, even across front lines."

The presence of God was evident in the fact that Christians, who "could have just rolled over and said 'What can we do?'" were "leading the struggle against violence."

He concluded: "I see God in the extraordinary fact that, after half a century of civil war, and the hardening that that causes, that we could stand in Bor and see people weeping with compassion. Because the spirit of God still moves in love in their hearts."

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