By Fredrick Nzwili
As the second round of South Sudan peace talks unfold in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, church leaders are urging the parties to prioritise peace to end the misery for millions trapped or ejected by the prolonged war.
The talks, titled “High Level Revitalisation Forum,” which opened on 5 February are occurring at a time when international calls to end the conflict have amplified. The current civil war started in December 2013, as a dispute between the political elite in Africa’s newest nation.
On the ground, the leaders told the parties to exercise restraint, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation, and begin honest and truthful negotiations.
“We have consistently stated that this is a senseless war which should and must immediately stop. There is no moral justification to continue war and killings, regardless of any legitimate political issues with the government or opposition feel they may have,” said the leaders in a South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) statement on 5 February.
“Our people in the cities and towns, in the refugee camps and protection of civilian sites, in the countryside and diaspora, are desperate to feel and experience true peace.”
About 14 factions are attending the 5-16 February talks which are led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Delegates are hoping to jumpstart a peace agreement the government of South Sudan and the rebels, the South People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition, political parties and former detainees signed in August 2015.
The forum is also expected to restore a permanent ceasefire, discuss governance and come up with a realistic timeline for elections, planned to occur at the end of the three transition period.
The truce has been critical, with jubilation and hope greeting the ceasefire agreement signed on 22 December 2017. Church leaders had received the pact as a “Christmas gift,” but to their dismay, the factions broke it within hours.
Now, the leaders want the groups to respect, honour and abide by this agreement which they committed to.
“It is no longer acceptable to negotiate posts and positions in the middle of violence and killings. The needs of the people must be met,” said the statement signed by among others, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Juba Paulino Lukudu Loro and Rev. Peter Gai Lual Marrow, chairman of the SSCC.
At the same time, the leaders express that there is no quick and easy way to resolve the difficult issues- referring to their historical experience- but stress the people’s longing for political compromise and peace.
Analysts say the conflict compels the church, civil society and the international community to act.
Current United Nations (UN) statistics show that in its fifth year, the conflict has forced 2.5 million to flee to neighbouring countries. The numbers are expected to reach 3million at the end of this year.
Inside the country, 7 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.