Church Leaders in South Sudan: This Is a Political, Not an Ethnic Conflict

"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"

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Here is a statement from church leaders in Juba, South Sudan, released Dec. 17, the day after fighting broke out in the young country.

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From Church leaders in Juba—Dec. 17, 2013

So the king said, ‘Bring me a sword’, and they brought a sword before the king. The king said, ‘Divide the living boy in two; then give half to one, and half to the other.’ But the woman whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son burned within her—‘Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!’ The other said, ‘It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.’Then the king responded: ‘Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.’All Israel heard of the judgement that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.

(1 Kings 3:24-28)

Whatever has happened in Juba over the last few days, we are concerned about the consequences.

There is a political problem between leaders within the SPLM. This should not be turned into an ethnic problem. Sadly, on the ground it is developing into tribalism. This must be defused urgently before it spreads.

Reconciliation is needed between the political leaders. Violence is not an acceptable way of resolving disputes. This must be done in a peaceful and civilised manner. Reconciliation is at the heart of the Church's ministry, a key Gospel value, and so we offer ourselves as mediators.

The way this incident is handled will have an effect on the future of our nation, whether positive or negative, both internally and in terms of international relations.

We are concerned about ongoing insecurity. Today was supposed to be a normal business day, but that was not the case. Fighting, killing and looting continued. The army must be controlled. We appeal to the security forces, who are our brothers, our sons and our parishioners, to exercise restraint and responsibility and to respect civilians.

We urge the civilians to remain calm and to stay somewhere safe. The government should give information to civilians when there are security operations and direct them where to go for safety.

We wish to see assurances for the safety of our international friends, including those from neighbouring countries, who are here to help us.

We urge 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.

We are in the season leading up to Christmas. This year's Christmas may not be what we expected, but it is what we have been given and we must accept it as it is. 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.

Message of Peace and Reconciliation from the South Sudan Council of Churches—Dec. 18, 2013

We, the (arch)bishops, moderators, overseers, and clergy from various denominations of the churches in South Sudan, and native members from the Dinka and Nuer communities:

Identify ourselves not as representatives of tribes or denominations but as leaders and representatives of one church and one body of Christ.

We are gathered, united and speaking in one voice that peace and reconciliation must prevail in our country.

We are saddened of the conflict which has happened in Juba and ongoing in other areas like Bor in Jonglei State. We are concerned about the consequences. It is unfortunate many lives have been lost, many more wounded while many others displaced in their own country. We condole with the families who have lost their loved ones and those separated from their families by the conflict in Juba, Bor and other areas.

We condemn the clash and acts of violence which have happened within the barracks of the Republic of South Sudan.

We condemn and correct the media statements and reports that refer to the violence as conflict between the Dinka and Nuer tribes.Whatever has happened should not be referred to as ethnic conflict and not between the Dinka and Nuer communities. These are political differences among the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Party, political leaders of the Republic of South Sudan.

Therefore, we appeal to the two communities of Dinka and Nuer not to accept that the conflict is between the two tribes.

We appeal to the army and security organs of our Government of South Sudan to take control of the situation and protect its citizens. Our citizens are running for refuge in UN compounds because they do not feel safe from their own security forces.

We are concerned about the reports of abuse, harassment and killing of individual citizens based on their ethnic affiliation. These are happening and witnessed for the last three days. Soldiers are asking civilians to identify themselves by tribes and we cannot accept to be identified by our tribes as we are all South Sudanese. We condemn such acts of abuse and hope that no more human lives should be lost.

We appeal to our Government to ensure safety of leaders under arrest and ensure speedy justice for any criminal act but most importantly reconciliation for political differences.

We appeal to our political leaders to refrain from hate speeches that may incite and escalate the violence. We urge to initiate dialogues and resolve issues amicably.

We appeal to the international community to respond fast and positively to the humanitarian crisis which has developed in the last three days particularly in Juba and Bor.

We appeal to our President of the Republic of South Sudan, His Excellency Salva Kiir Mayardit to continue to calm and ensure safety for our nation.

Most Rev. Daniel Deng Bul, Archbishop of Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ECSS)

Rev. Tut Kony Nyang, Moderator of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church

Bishop Dr Isaiah Majok Dau, Overseer, Sudan Pentecostal Church

Rt Rev. David Akau Kuol, Bishop of Diocese of Awerial, ECSS

Bishop Michael Taban, Chairperson of South Sudan Council of Churches

Rev. Mark Akech Cien, Acting General Secretary of South Sudan Council of Churches

Rev. James Yout Chuol, ECSS, Diocese of Akobo

Rev. Daniel Deng Anhiany, ECSS, Diocese of Malakal

Rev. Samuel Galuak Marial, ECSS Diocese of Twich East

Rev. Peter Adum Deng, ECSS, Diocese of Twich East

Rev. William Mou Deng, ECSS, Diocese of Wau and Aweil

Rev. Philip Aduong Thiong, ECSS Diocese of Juba

Rev. John Chol Daau, ECSS Diocese of Bor

Rev. Yat Michael Ruot, South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church

Rev. Gatkuoth Chuol Bul, South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church

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These statements were obtained by Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.www.churchinneed.org