Chair of Upper Nile Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation urges warring parties to embrace peace, dialogue
JUBA, South Sudan
Fighting between rival army groups in remote areas of South Sudan’s Upper Nile State has spread into a camp housing people displaced by the violence, religious leaders said Thursday.
The bloodshed has killed an unknown number of people while rape, murder and kidnapping have been reported as the conflict intensifies.
Father Paolino Tipo Deng, a Comboni missionary priest and chairman of Upper Nile Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation, urged warring parties to embrace peace and dialogue in a bid to restore stability.
“We condemn and reject such senseless and unnecessary war among people of one nation who are supposed to be living in peace and harmony, collaborating together for their good,” Deng told Anadolu Agency in the nation’s capital of Juba. “We urge the warring parties to a cease-fire and stop blood-shedding.”
The conflict erupted in August between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-opposition (SPLA-IO) faction, led by Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual, and the Agwelek militia force under Gen. Johnson Olony.
The conflict later on expanded to members of the Nuer and Shiluk communities. The root cause of the conflict concerns land.
Deng urged the government to intervene and stop the conflict which has resulted in the deaths of civilians and displacement of thousands from their homelands.
“We call on the president, first vice president and all peace partners to take immediate action to stop the fighting and open up their hearts in a sincere dialogue to address the root causes of this conflict,” said Deng.
The abduction of women and children and the destruction of properties and livelihoods have also been reported.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is alarmed by the escalating conflict which has displaced at least 20,000 people, some of them forced to flee for their lives up to four times as the conflict rages. At least 3,000 have already fled to neighboring Sudan, further intensifying South Sudan’s refugee crisis, the largest in Africa.
The armed conflict erupted in the village of Tonga on August 15. Violence has since spread further to northern parts of the states of Jonglei and Unity. It is currently advancing in the Upper Nile’s Fashoda county and is threatening the town of Kodok.
“Desperation is rising, and more people are fleeing as conflict intensifies,” said UNHCR’s Representative in South Sudan, Arafat Jamal. “Civilians are under attack in this ruthless conflict; we must ensure their protection.”
Women and children and others at high risk make up the majority of those displaced. Some elderly people or those with disabilities, have been unable to flee and are compelled to hide in bushes and along the White Nile River during attacks.
Fleeing civilians are visibly traumatized and report killings, injuries, gender-based violence, abductions, extortion, looting and burning of properties. Many have lost their homes and have been separated from their families.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir has directed the Chief of Defense Forces, Santino Deng Wol, to deploy unified forces to conflict-affected areas in the Upper Nile state.