April 21, 2014 (JUBA) - Thousands of South Sudanese flooded to churches this weekend to celebrate Easter, while the young nation contemplates the attacks on civilians in recent days in Bor and Bentiu that may have marked a turning point in the four-month-old conflict.
- South Sudan president Salva Kiir (AP)
President Salva Kiir, a Catholic, marked Good Friday by calling for forgiveness and burial of political differences in remarks at Kator Cathedral in Juba, where a prayer service was conducted by the archbishop of Juba diocese, Paulino Lukudu Loro.
South Sudan Television broadcast images of several government ministers and key foreign diplomats attending the service.
Kiir, in comments also broadcast on state radio, said he hoped the country would celebrate the next Easter in peace and described the attack on the internally displaced in Bor, an unfortunate and unacceptable act.
The leader of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) whose internal political rifts, plunged the country into conflict which has forced over one million people to flee their homes, said what happened in Bor is very regrettable and pledged that his government would do everything possible to stop the situation from escalating.
The head of state is the latest top official to condemn the attack a United Nations base in Bor, the Jonglei state capital, where 5,000 civilians have been seeking protection since the fighting broke out in December.
Fighting began in Juba as a result of a political rift within the leadership of the ruling SPLM which spread into the armed forces and quickly spread to Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile state.
It remains unclear what motivated the attack on the UN base in Bor. However, in a petition seen by Sudan Tribune the mainly Dinak demonstrators asked that the mainly Nuer civilians in the UN base be relocated out of Bor. They had been angered by reports that the displaced people in the base had celebrated news that the rebels had retaken Bentiu, the capital of neighbouring Unity state.
Many observers point have questioned why the government allowed the demonstrators to carry weapons if indeed they were going to present peaceful petition. The government has denied any involvement in the attack.
However, a statement issued by seven senior SPLM members who were detained in the first weeks of the crisis, have claimed that a group of armed police, military and wildlife soldiers in plain clothes together with armed Dinka Bor youth, were responsible for the attack.
Officials say the victims of the attack include women and children as well as elderly people. They say most of the victims were members Nuer tribe, who had sought protection at the UN base after fighting erupted in the country late last year in Juba and spread to several key town and areas.
Witnesses and survivors claimed the attackers were demonstrating in front of the UN compound before the situation turned violent. UN officials say the armed group forced their way into the camp at started shooting at civilians.
It was not clear what provoked the shooting, although South Sudanese information, Michaeal Makuei Lueth, told journalists at new conference on Friday that UN forces shot bullets into the air, provoking the attack.
"The UNMISS force shot bullets in the air. That shooting of bullets in the air provoked the situation and as a result a fight ensued between the youth and the UNMISS force and the rebels. The IDPS [internally displaced persons] on one side and youth on the other side, and that is what resulted into that unfortunate incident of yesterday", Lueth told reporters on Friday.
The attack has drawn international condemnation.
The head of the United Nations’ relief efforts in South Sudan, Toby Lancer, described the attack as “pointless".
“These events show, yet again, the pointlessness of the violence engulfing South Sudan, said Lancer. The current cycle of revenge will get the people of this country nowhere. It wrecks the present and casts a dark shadow of what should have been a very bright future”, the top relief official adds in a statement.
The head of public relations and information in South Sudanese army (SPLA), Brigadier General, Malaak Ayuen and the spokesperson of the government troops, Colonel Philip Aguer, denied at the time the army was involved, saying there soldiers were about 6 kilometers outside Bor when the conflict erupted.
NO MORE IMPUNITY
In his national Easter address, president Kiir said his government would not allow the culture of impunity to flourish. The people who carried out the attack on the UN compound where the internally displaced persons seek protection would be investigated and brought to book.
"I would like to wish you a happy Easter filled with hope of peace and joy. As Christians and people of God, we should pray hard that this country celebrate the next Easter in peace. May this Easter be a new beginning of greater prosperity, success and happiness? There is no reason for fighting and killings. What happened in Bor is unfortunate and it is unacceptable act. The government does not support such act and we will work very hard to see into it that those who were behind it are brought to book. The period of when people commit atrocities and come out with unnecessary claims to just justify their acts is gone. There will be no more impunity", Kiir said in the televised statement broadcast on Sunday.
Meanwhile archbishop of Juba diocese, Paulino Lukudu Loro, during his preaching speech called on politicians to bury their differences during Easter.
"Jesus died for us on this earth so that we could be reconciled with God, with one another and society. And I believe all of us can believe in that and put our differences aside," Archbishop Loro said.
"The message of Easter is a message of man finally returning to the love and care that he used to enjoy with his Father before he sinned. If all of us can remember that the Lord has freed us, being reconciled with God and with one another but as long as we are missing out on that fact, we will continue being alienated from each other and from our God."
The top cleric said politicians seem to be losing sight that they only have one country. He observed that the ongoing war in the country signified lack of tolerance and respect of human rights among politicians.
"What we are seeing even here in Juba is very worrying. Our people are suffering and dying. First of all, just because there are some selfish individuals in our midst, unfortunately, those individuals have got power and money; they can manipulate the young people and threw the country into turmoil and suffering", he observed.
"The young people, unfortunately, who are not having anything to do, are easily bought and they start to engage in violence. Again, the root cause is that we are losing sight of the fact that we have only one country and that if we blow it up, we burn it up, we will have no place to run to."
The most senior Roman Catholic in South Sudan implored politicians from all sides of the conflict to focus on coming up with ways of bettering the lives of the innocent civil population.
"We should be talking about how we are going to move this nation forward. Both the ruling party and the opposition should be working towards one goal which is to make sure that this country has got necessary amenities that they need to enjoy the fruits of this country’s natural resources," he said.
"All of them can contribute to that whether they are in the opposition or the ruling party."
He warned that if not curbed, violence would destroy the country.
"Political violence by a few individuals is going to bring disaster for our nation. I am praying that country will see violence for what it is and reject it," he said. "I appeal to politicians; they are brothers and sister so they should organise their politics like brothers and sisters as they seek the mandate of the citizens of this country to lead them. Politics of character assassination has been our setback, or one would say it is our regret that when politicians are appealing to us, they talk about each instead of issues."