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Gun battle ends South Sudan youth festival

Posted on: July 28, 2016 11:43 AM
UN police officers and peace-keepers with the UN Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) conduct a sweep for weapons near the Jebel area of Juba.
Photo Credit: Eric Kanalstein / UN Photo

[ACNS, by Kenyi Dube] A three-day youth festival in the Anglican Diocese of Juba came to an abrupt end as hundreds of young people were forced to flee a gun battle that erupted without warning. The three-day open air outreach at the Munuki suburbs, in the out skirts of the city, attracted close to 1000 young people aged between 18 and 28. Many of whom gave their life to Jesus.

The Juba diocesan secretary, the Revd Jackson Aripa, was making the closing remarks at the end of the festival when he was interrupted by gun shots that were being fired from different directions, forcing the congregation to run to find safety from the live bullets flying above them.

The incident happened on 8 July, the eve of the fifth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence; at the start of an eruption of violence which has forced many people to seek shelters in the All Saints Anglican Cathedral and other Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

Nobody was shot in the incident, but three young people sustained major injuries as they scrambled for cover in the small church hall. The situation remained tense as the gun battle continued until late into the night forcing the young people to stay in the church until morning, leaving families were worried about their safety.

Later, the young people spoke about having to lie flat on the ground while soldiers and rebels shot at each other – some of them from positions near the church hall.

The youth co-ordinator for the Diocese of Juba, David Luate, later encouraged the youths not to stop organising such meetings and advised them to remain strong in their faith and continue to preach the gospel in the young nation which at this moment needs the word of God which can bring peace and harmony in the country. He appealed for all the Christians in juba and in all the dioceses across the country and abroad to continue to pray for South Sudan.

Agencies warn of “catastrophic” humanitarian crisis 

A coalition of international aid agencies has today warned that more must be done to protect civilians and aid agencies in South Sudan, writes Gavin Drake.

The 10 aid agencies warned that South Sudan faces a spiralling humanitarian crisis as the recent surge in fighting prevents them from providing urgent help to millions of people in need. “Violence and insecurity continue in Juba and are spreading to other states despite a fragile ceasefire in a country where half the population relies on humanitarian aid,” they said in a joint statement.

“Even before the latest fighting which rocked South Sudan on 7 July, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of independence, 4.8 million people did not have enough to eat and 2.5 million people had fled their homes.

“The fighting in Juba left at least 300 dead and forces tens of thousands to flee their homes, leaving many more people without enough food, water or shelter.”

The International Rescue Committee is one of the ten agencies behind the joint statement. Its senior director of policy and advocacy, Kate Phillips-Barrasso, said that “Once again, we risk failing the people of South Sudan at a time when they most need our help. Many aid agencies have had to suspend or limit life-saving work due to the continuing fighting and insecurity, and it is the most vulnerable people who are paying the price.

The international community must redouble its efforts to find a solution to this crisis – nothing will protect civilians like a peace that is fully implemented. The status quo is simply not enough.”

Many agencies have reduced their personnel to essential staff only because of the on-going security situation; leaving Churches as the only provider of help in the ground. The Anglican Alliance is working to co-ordinate support for this work from Anglican provinces around the world.

The agencies warn that warehouses of food, water and life-saving materials have been looted even after the declaration of a ceasefire.

On 13 July, a warehouse belonging to the WFP was looted and 4,500 metric tons of food were stolen – enough to feed 220,000 people for a month. Office equipment, fuel, and vehicles were also looted. The WFP estimated the value of the losses at approximately £15.2 million GBP.

“In a country that has only 200 km of paved road, ongoing fighting and restrictions on internal flights have meant that agencies cannot travel freely to deliver help, and cannot restock their bases across the country with basic supplies needed to support operations and materials needed for humanitarian projects,” the agencies say.

“The violence has also meant that banks are not fully operational making it difficult to transfer cash to pay staff and purchase goods, and many suppliers have closed their operations, limiting the procurement of essential supplies.”

Oxfam’s South Sudan country director, Zlatko Gegic, warned that “If security conditions deteriorate further, providing aid will become logistically impossible. Humanitarian aid has probably already prevented famine in hard-to-reach parts of South Sudan – if aid agencies cannot operate fully the consequences could be catastrophic.”