[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Thousands of people in Juba have fled their homes and are seeking sanctuary in the city’s Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals and other places of worship as fierce gun battles rage around them.
The general secretary of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC), Father James Oyet Latansio, reports that many areas – including the SSCC compound – are effectively no-go areas. The area around the SSCC compound is “under control of the SPLA Government Forces,” he said.
The SPLA is the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, and the current clashes are between the official South Sudanese army – the SPLA government forces – and opposition SPLA forces. The United Nations’ Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has condemned the violence between the two groups and called for calm.
“We are trying to take cover from flying bullets in Juba,” Father Latansio said. “The SSCC Office Compound is a no-go area under control of the SPLA Government Forces. They are very harsh. There are very many unknown armed men moving in the residential areas creating fear among the civil population.”
He said that many thousands of displaced people have sought sanctuary in church compounds – including Bishop Arkanjelo Wani Lemi, Presiding Bishop of the Africa Inland Church. The figure includes more than 15,000 people who have fled the regions of Nyakuron, Rock City, Mauna, Munuki and Jebel in search of shelter, food and security.
They have assembled at sites including St Joseph’s Parish Church, the Anglican All Saints Cathedral, the Roman Catholic St Theresa’s Cathedral, and the Gumba Sherikat area.
The Anglican Bishop of Rejaf, Enoch Tombe, said last night (Monday) that around 1,000 people are taking shelter in All Saints’ Cathedral.
“Please do pray for South Sudan,” Father Latansio urged, saying that the people of the country “surely do not deserve this difficult punishment.”
The Anglican Alliance is in close touch with the Episcopal Church of South Sudan & Sudan, and is liaising with Sudra, its relief and development arm, on the response to those in need.
“This is vicious and senseless violence, disrupting the fragile peace process,” the Revd Rachel Carnegie, co-executive director of the Anglican Alliance, said. “Yet again it is the most vulnerable who are traumatised and harmed and in their hour of need they turn to the Church.
“As a Communion we must stand alongside the Church in South Sudan. We pray for the vulnerable and pray that the ceasefire declared by both political leaders will hold.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby issued a statement last night appealing for South Sudan’s leaders to “cease hostilities immediately and accept mediation.”
The UN Security Council met in an emergency secret session this week and the 15 members strongly condemned the escalating violence. After the meeting, Japan’s UN Ambassador Koro Bessho, told reporters that the Council had expressed particular shock and outrage at attacks on UN compounds and protection of civilians sites in Juba.
“The members of the Council condemned in the strongest terms all attacks and provocations against civilians and the United Nations,” Mr Bessho said. “They emphasized the need for United Nations [civilian protection] sites and United Nations personnel to remain secure.”
Two Chinese UN peace keepers and a UN staff member are among those killed in recent days. The UN Security Council is due to meet again later today to discuss the ongoing situation. The body’s secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is calling for an immediate arms embargo. “The renewed violence is outrageous,” he said. “It is yet another grievous setback. It deepens the country’s suffering. It makes a mockery of commitments to peace.”