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'Some are too traumatised to speak': Bishop pleads for South Sudan

22 August 2014


Crossfire: children shelter in poor conditions in UNMISS camps for internally displaced people in South Sudan

Crossfire: children shelter in poor conditions in UNMISS camps for internally displaced people in South Sudan

WOMEN in South Sudan are crying "day and night, their children are dying at their hands", while their leaders put their personal interests first, a South Sudanese bishop said on Wednesday.

The Assistant Bishop of Juba, the Rt Revd Fraser Yugu, was one of eight senior clerics from South Sudan in the UK this week, under the aegis of the Barnabas Fund, to launch the United Christian Emergency Committee for South Sudan (UCEC), a cross-denominational group seeking to tackle the humanitarian and leadership crises.

An appeal from UCEC on Wednesday warned that: "Our future is being undermined as our children are being devastated." Its programme includes humanitarian relief, reconciliation, and the establishment of a college to train "responsible leaders".

Bishop Yugu said: "People are dying only because of the leadership. Everyone wants to become a leader." Talks in Addis Ababa were deadlocked, he said, because of incompatible demands. "The government has given a red line that they don't want to be removed; meanwhile the rebel side want the government to step down." Politicians were putting their personal interests first, he said: "If the President resigns, they will lose their posts."

Bishop Yugu also expressed concern that foreign interests were "fuelling the war", because of South Sudan's natural resources: "People are exploiting us, and making us fight, and they are waiting for us to finish and then they will come. . . They don't want the government to be removed because it means whoever comes will take them out of the oil fields."

Famine had hit in the past month, he said. The Church was providing counselling to the traumatised: "Many have witnessed the deaths of fathers and children. Some of them cannot talk; they are just silent. We go to preach and encourage them because they are losing their hope. We say: 'You are still alive and you are still in your country.'"

The Church was also mobilising resources to help those in need, including some who arrived naked. "We are taking things to people so they have something to put on for modesty."

UCEC is asking churches to pray, and to lobby politicians to put pressure on South Sudan's leaders, and to support the humanitarian effort.

"Many people are innocent about our war," Bishop Yugu said. "The focus is on Iraq, Syria. . . Ours is completely out [of the news]."

"MY CHURCH was burned down. My flock is scattered." Thus spoke the Bishop of Khartoum, the Rt Revd Ezekiel Kondo, at a meeting of church leaders which I attended last month, writes Christine Allen. He described himself as one of the "displaced bishops".

The Church - as a building and as a community of people - has been torn apart. But it is not giving up. Some church leaders left the country during the fighting, but many stayed, and most of the others have returned.

Initially, the faith leaders present at the talks in Addis Ababa were observers, but their involvement has expanded. Now they are monitors, and do lobbying and mediation work. To those who say this is too political, Bishop Isaiah Majok Dau of the Sudan Pentecostal Church replied: "The most important ministry we can carry out is this one." Churches are one of the few institutions that are trusted in South Sudan. Their record of standing with and supporting communities in the face of violence is respected. They have suffered too, and share the trauma of the people. Churches often cross ethnic lines, and have a vital part to play in urging reconciliation, but they are aware of the way in which their participation  in processes might be used politically.

While the main political antagonists in the conflict are from two different tribes, everyone I spoke to was angry that this was being portrayed as an ethnic conflict. This is why they see their work for peace as so important.

In order to prevent the worst of the humanitarian crisis, it is vital that South Sudan is pushed up the political and media agenda. It is likely that an emergency appeal will be needed later in the year. 

Christine Allen is director of policy and public affairs at Christian Aid.

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