Christian leaders in South Sudan have called for peace after violence in the capital Juba on 15 December led to the deaths of over 500 people.
The unrest, which led to a failed coup attempt at the weekend and spread to Bor in the north, has been caused by infighting within the ruling SPLM party. The conflict has taken on an ethnic dimension with fears it may escalate into a civil war.
“There is a political problem between leaders within the SPLM. This should not be turned into an ethnic problem,” said Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba, on behalf of the religious leaders.
“Sadly, on the ground it is developing into tribalism. This must be defused urgently before it spreads,” he said, according to a Dec. 19 report by Caritas.
Thousands of people have been seeking safety in UN bases and church buildings and the main hospital struggled to cope with influx of injured.
“It’s been awful but yesterday was calmer,” a UN worker told ZENIT by email Dec. 19 from Juba. “Many are dead and many are seeking refuge in UN compounds. At least now we can move.”
The Christian leaders called on the government, UN and NGOs to provide humanitarian assistance to the displaced civilians in Juba, and to ensure that water and food are available for the population.
“Violence is not an acceptable way of resolving disputes. This must be done in a peaceful and civilised manner,” said Archbishop Loro.“Reconciliation is at the heart of the Church’s ministry, a key Gospel value, and so we offer ourselves as mediators.
“As we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child, let us remember that God is with us, and pray for the strength and courage to bring peace, reconciliation and healing to our new nation.”
Caritas said its members in South Sudan have a wide range of humanitarian, development and peacebuilding programmes in the country where they work with local communities to build the newly born nation.
South Sudan became independent in 2011 but has been struggling to achieve a stable government ever since.
Independence was intended to end a decade-long conflict, led by the SPLM, against the north. But the oil-rich country remains ethnically and politically divided, with many active armed groups.