This should not be turned into an ethnic problem. Sadly, on the ground it is developing into tribalism. This must be defused urgently before it spreads."
Christian leaders in South Sudan have responded to new violence with a call for peace and reconciliation, urging their countrymen to reject efforts to sow division along ethnic lines.
“This should not be turned into an ethnic problem. Sadly, on the ground it is developing into tribalism. This must be defused urgently before it spreads,” church leaders in Juba said in a Dec. 17 message, according to Aid to the Church in Need.
The South Sudan Council of Churches, an interdenominational Christian group, on Dec. 18 similarly warned that despite reports of ethnic violence, the conflict should not be considered an ethnic conflict at its root. They implored the Dinka and Nuer communities not to see each other as enemies.
“We are concerned about the reports of abuse, harassment and killing of individual citizens based on their ethnic affiliation,” the churches’ council said. “These are happening and witnessed for the last three days. Soldiers are asking civilians to identify themselves by tribes and we cannot accept to be identified by our tribes as we are all South Sudanese. We condemn such acts of abuse and hope that no more human lives should be lost.”
Both groups condemned the violence and characterized the conflict as “political differences” within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Party.
Fighting broke out in the South Sudan capital of Juba in mid-December following a power struggle between the country’s president, Salva Kiir, and former vice president Riek Machar, the BBC News reports. At least 1,000 people have been killed, with some killings reportedly being targeted by ethnicity.
President Kiir is from the Dinka ethnicity and former vice president Machar is of the Nuer ethnicity. The president dismissed Machar from office in July.
Almost 200,000 people have been displaced and many lack shelter, clean water and sanitation. A state of emergency was declared in the nation on Jan. 1.
There are increasing tensions in the rebel-held city of Bor in Jonglei state and Bentu, in Unity state, which is also rebel-held. Military build-ups have prompted fears of increased fighting.
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