A high-level delegation of faith leaders is to meet church leaders and government officials from South Sudan, in the aftermath of killings in churches, mosques and United Nations bases that left hundreds dead and prompted fears the four-month conflict could escalate.
The delegation, co-initiated by ACT Alliance, is urging government officials to immediately take action to stop the killings of innocent and unarmed civilians by ordering a ceasefire. Meetings are scheduled to take place on May 2 and 3.
The visiting delegation is made up of ACT Alliance general secretary John Nduna, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC Central Committee moderator Dr Agnes Abuom, World YWCA general secretary Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, and special ecumenical envoy to South Sudan Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia.
Their visit comes following the recent massacres in the oil hub of Bentiu that left more than 200 civilians dead, slaughtered in a church, a mosque and a hospital. Two days later, at least 58 civilians were killed in an attack on a UN base in Bor where 5000 civilians had taken refuge.
John Nduna said the message the delegation brings is clear and direct. “The killings must stop immediately, irrespective of the state of the on-going peace negotiations. The situation is unacceptable. Now is the time for the leadership and opposition to show clear political will to negotiate and reach a solution by upholding the ceasefire signed in January. All parties and actors must do their utmost to protect civilians and grant full humanitarian access.”
The delegation is also urging that parties to the conflict guarantee aid agencies access to civilians in hard-to-reach and volatile areas. Nduna said that people caught up in the fighting, especially women and children, needed to be assured protection by both sides particularly before the coming rainy season, which would hamper operations.
“In a month or so, some areas will be water-logged and muddy, preventing relief vehicles getting to remote areas,” he said. “We now have a small window of opportunity to get more relief goods in before the weather turns.”
Since December, ACT members have worked to get life-saving relief supplies to thousands of people in South Sudan. Work has focused on distributing water, sanitation and hygiene kits, drilling boreholes, distributing relief goods, supporting mobile health clinics, offering psychosocial care and carrying out peace-building work in camps.
According to the UN over a million people have been forced from their homes, taking refuge in UN camps, with host communities and in neighbouring countries. The UN humanitarian coordination agency, UNOCHA, said in an April 25 situation report that as many as 4.9 million people need humanitarian assistance.