2014-02-07 18:30:07

South Sudan bishops say Church and civil society must be involved in peace talks

(Vatican Radio) “We stand at a decisive moment in the history of South Sudan,” said the Catholic bishops of South Sudan and Sudan in a Pastoral Exhortation released after their meeting in Juba at the end of January.

“Fundamental choices must be made about how we deal with our past and present history, about how we govern ourselves as a nation, about how state institutions serve the poor” they said.

Thousands of people have been killed in South Sudan and more than 800,000 have fled their homes since fighting erupted in mid-December.

The bishops voice their concern especially for the suffering of the peoples of the Nuba Mountains, Darfur and Blue Nile in Sudan, and the contested area of Abyei.

They call for the implementation of the cease-fire signed on January 23rd, and they express their criticism of the exclusion of the Churches and other civic forces from the peace talks in Adis Ababa.

Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni, Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura Yambio Dioecese asks why is it that Church and civic leaders are excluded from the ongoing IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) talks? Why is it – he says – that the very men who took up arms and perpetrated violence are discussing the future of our country? “The vast silent minority needs to be involved and consulted”

Listen to the interview… RealAudioMP3

Bishop Hiiboro says that although the ceasefire has been signed, the mechanism to monitor the implementation of the truce is not yet in place, so fighting continues in different areas.

He expresses his hope and appeals that this mechanism be put into place as it will hopeful stop the escalation of the violence.

Bishop Hiioboro points out that throughout the long years of the Sudanese conflict, the Church has always expressed its view through a number of pastoral letters and exhortations.

“We have been close to our people and so the Church has consistently focussed on justice and peace, on observing the rule of law, and campaigning for stability in the country”. He says the eruption of violence last December came “as a real shock for all of us and we feel this particular letter is talking from within our hearts looking at what this violence has brought upon us: the lives of people that have been lost, the property that has been lost, the misplacement and the huge misuse of resources due to the violence. And so – he says - we are appealing to the conscience of our country, to government and leadership to stop this violence from spreading onwards”.

The Bishops are calling for a process of Truth and Reconciliation because – Bishop Hiiboro explains –“there has never been a moment in which we have been able to address the violence of the past”. He says “many injustices were committed even by us: the people of South Sudan against themselves - and now that we are coming into power as a country we can see that the violence we are submitted to now comes from within a party, within leadership positions”. He points out that “the lives lost, the people who have been killed and displaced are poor people. So we are asking that the government and those who are responsible should come out and admit their guilt and stop this chain of impunity”. Bishop Hiiboro says that as of today, no leader has ever been convicted for any wrong doing: “So we appeal that all of us ,we must all come out clear and tell our stories, and admit our mistakes and our sins so that a good beginning can be laid out for the country”.

Bishop Hiiboro speaks of the corruption and nepotism which he says is rampant within South Sudanese leadership. “We have been described as the 3rd most corrupt country in the world, and that is very disheartening”. But we are aware that a lot of resources have been misused since the birth of the nation. We also know the appointment of some of the leaders and heads of institutions have taken place because of favours, or maybe tribal lines. We see this very clearly and we are saying: this has given birth to the conflict and the problems we are facing and we asking (those in power) to turn away from corruption, so we can use the resources for the development of this new nation, and also to avoid conflict. Let people be employed according to merit, not because of special relationships”.

Calling for the inclusion of the Church in peace talks in Addis Abeba, Bishop Hiiboro says the Church has been so useful in finding solutions and reconciliation in the country. But, he says: “in this present crisis, the people who are taking part in the negotiations are the very people who are involved in the conflict. Many of them are armed men and they are those in leadership. And the silent majority does not have any part of it. So we are saying the Church and civil society needs to be consulted hence to see which direction our country needs to take”. So - he says – “we appeal to those who are facilitating this process (and who are doing wonderful work) to make the talks inclusive” or else we will go back to square one again and again.

As regards the support of the international community bishop Hiiboro says “we have seen tremendous efforts on the part of the international community, of neibouring countries, of IGAD and also on the part of our friends of neighbouring Churches. We have been visited by members of AMECEA and also the Holy See has sent support and messages of collaboration. There has been support especially for the displaced people. But we still call on the international community to see that their efforts should be stable this time, and see that all parties be involved”. And – he continues – “also not to sit back, because when we achieved independence the international community felt that it was all over and that we had our freedom”. But Bishop Hiiboro says, it is necessary to put in place a proper nation-building process which tackles unresolved issues from the past. So a strategy must be laid down to build stability, “and this must be done involving the Churches, because we are so close to the people, we know their stories” he said.

Regarding the suffering of the people, bishop Hiiboro says he is very disheartened. “Within one month the country has seen a huge loss of life, a loss of property and resources, and a huge displacement. Many of those on the run are in great difficulty also because of lack of roads; they can’t run for their rescue, many are in forest areas or areas that are difficult to reach”. He speaks of the misery of the people. For example in one Diocese where the violence has erupted, there are over 7000 people sheltering in the Cathedral. This has been going on for a long time and the situation is unsustainable. Many of them are not receiving enough food, and concern is growing as the rainy season is upon us and the swamp areas will flood and make things even more difficult. “The lives of children and women and men, and the wounded is just deplorable, so we are appealing to men and women of goodwill to be at our side at this moment and offer support to improve the emergency aid with food, clean water and shelter”. He says displacement continues and “now we are worried because we have news that the rebellion of Riad Machar has already established a resistance movement, a movement of fighting so more displacement will continue if no permanent peace is achieved. So we are appealing for different types of support for the community…”

Bishop Hiiboro concludes appealing for prayers that the hearts of people who want to continue the war may be touched by God, and also the hearts of men and women who are able to support the people with material aid.

Bishiop Hiiboro says “we are ashamed that after just two years we are in such a situation, people may think – he says – that our people do not have sense and determination. But he says what has happened has spiralled out of a small group of people. But he says “we don’t lose hope. We will be able to overcome all of this”.

And as the Bishops of Sudan and South Sudan conclude their Pastoral exhortation: When the crisis erupted, our people turned spontaneously to prayer. We call on the nation and all people of good will to continue to accompany the peace and reconciliation process with prayer and fasting. Furthermore, we appeal to our leaders to join their people in this endeavour”.

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