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Churches urged to help as violence breaks out on anniversary of South Sudan independence

by Antony Bushfield

Reports from the capital Juba suggest armed militias clashed outside the Presidential Palace.

Heavy gunfire and artillery could be heard in the surrounding areas as forces loyal to Vice-President Riek Machar battle with the troops of President Salva Kiir.

Both sides are involved in a brutal civil war which has been raging since 2013.

World Vision

Christian charity World Vision told Premier the transitional government should use churches to sped up the peace process.

Stefanie Glinksi, Field Content Manager told Premier churches have a vital role to play in bringing peace because people trust them more than authorities.

"You might not find a church building, but you'll find a tree where people meet to worship together and they are great support system to the people," she said.

"The people trust the churches and churches can implement projects, they can help people and generally it's very important in the population and well accepted in the country."

A ceasefire deal was signed in 2015 which had provided a source of hope for those fleeing the ongoing conflict, but violence continues.

Ms Glinski added: "One in every five people in South Sudan has been forced to flee their homes since the conflict began in December 2013.

"In one of the transit centres in Northern Uganda, located just 250 kilometres from Juba (the capital of South Sudan), an average of 180 South Sudanese refugees arrive daily.

"These families often carry no more than a change of clothes."

World Vision

She told Premier that the church can provide a source of stability in a time of crisis: "The church kind of works as a long term sustainability support.

"Churches do continue to speak to the people and implement the lessons that people have learnt and projects, so they are very vital when it comes to long-term development."

Figures suggest that 65% of those fleeing are children under the age of 18.

Ms Glinski also told Premier about the food crisis that has hit the nation: "A third of the nation - one in every four children under the age of five is acutely malnourished, so really a lot of the challenges have to do with being in a country that's still very unstable, people struggling to have access to enough food."

Christian Aid has also appealed for an end to the violence.

South Sudan's Cabinet has cancelled Independence Day celebrations for the first time, as the economic crisis has left the event unaffordable.

Instead the milestone will be observed with silence and a presidential statement.

World Vision

Responding to the situation, the South Sudan Council of Churches said: "We cry out for an end to the violence in our country, and especially for the bloodshed to end in Wau and the areas around it.

"Since its outbreak, we have been deeply disturbed, and aware of the suffering that the recent and intolerable fighting has brought. Many innocent people have been displaced from their homes.

"As peace makers, we are all outraged by the deaths, injuries, hunger and fear that has crippled one of our largest cities. But we are also aware that many other parts of the country are affected by acts of violence that have resulted in loss of innocent lives, crippling of the economy and fear."

In the past week heavy fighting in South Sudan's Wau district has led to the displacement of a further 70,000 people.

Prior to the latest round of fighting, the UN said there were an estimated of 100,000 people displaced in and around Wau. The organisation now expects the number to go up to 150,000.

Listen to Premier's Hannah Tooley speak to Stefanie Glinksi here:

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