The South Sudan Council of Churches has called for an immediate ceasefire in the four month old tribal civil war, warning that if security is not restored to the countryside, Sudan will fall victim to famine. The Palm Sunday statement comes as the UN reports that several hundred civilians were murdered by rival militias in Bentiu last week after Nuer rebels captured the town from troops loyal to President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe.
On 21 April 2014 the head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Raisedon Zenenga said that on 15-16 April 2014 Nuer tribesman entered the Kali-Ballee Mosque in the city and seperated by tribe the refugees who had taking shelter. In the violence that followed, 200 Dinka tribesman were killed and over 400 wounded. Nuer refugees who did not support the attack were also murdered, UNMISS reported. The gunmen then proceeded to a Catholic Church and a World Food Program compound killing Dinka. The following day members of a Dinka militia attacked in reprisal Nuer refugees, killing an unknown number.
The Nuer-Dinka conflict had the potential to become a second Rwandan genocide, UN officials warned. In an interview with UN Radio, Joseph Contreras, Acting Spokesperson of UMISS, said the use of radio to encite tribal rivalries was “especially regrettable and unfortunate, given what happened in Rwanda 20 years ago, when radio stations were used to broadcast the hate messages” that sparked the ethic murders in that country.
“We’ve been monitoring the broadcast of hate messages on a regular basis since the crisis first broke out…and we have called on relevant national state and local authorities to take all measures possible to prevent the airing of such messages,” he said, noting however that some of the opposition commanders among those that had captured Bentiu last week had broadcast messages calling for unity and an end to tribalism in South Sudan.
Unfortunately, those appeals for reason had had to compete with messages of “sheer ethnically- based hatred.” Mr. Contreras said.
The 13 April 2013 statement entitled “I am my Brother’s Keeper, Stop the War Now!” called for an end to tribal and political rivalries. The four months of fighting, which had displaced almost three quarter of a million people and left thousands dead, was also preventing farmers from sowing their crops at the start of the rainy season – presaging famine later this year.
“We are disheartened by the tendency of our leaders to use war and violence as a means of settling political differences, ascending to power or retaining power. We are saddened by the delay and the lack of progress in the peace talks in Addis Ababa and we are horrified by the ongoing armed mobilisation by the conflicting parties in and outside the country and by the prospects of a looming and escalating war rather than peace,” the statement said.
The Primate of the Episcopal Church in South Sudan and Sudan, Archbishop Daniel Deng, along with Roman Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba and seven other church leaders endorsed the statement.
They urged a restructuring of the South Sudan government to allow power sharing amongst rival tribes. “We have tried a centralised system of government (and a) decentralised system. All have failed. We suggest consideration of a federal system of governance to address the ethnic and regional imbalances in the national constitution,” they said.
The Church leaders called for a South Sudan “where leaders listen to people and serve the people rather than wait to be served… (and) where leaders equitably share the national resources with the people and not simply accumulate these resources for themselves and their relatives.”