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SOUTHSUDAN-CHURCHES (UPDATED) Dec-20-2013 (460 words) xxxi

Christian leaders say violence in South Sudan is political, not ethnic

By Catholic News Service

JUBA, South Sudan (CNS) -- South Sudan's Christian leaders reiterated their statement that the capital's recent violence was political, not ethnic.

For two consecutive days, the leaders of the nation's Christian churches issued a joint statement urging the government and political leaders to protect the nation's citizens and to remain calm and not incite violence.

Their statements followed a Dec. 16 announcement by President Salva Kiir that the government had defended itself from attacks in the capital, including an attack on the headquarters of the Sudan People's Liberation Army by soldiers allied to the former Vice President Riek Machar.

Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, charged that Machar, a Nuer who was sacked in July, was attempting to seize power by force.

In attempting to prevent South Sudan from plunging into civil war, African mediators held what they described as "productive" talks Dec. 20 with Kiir.

Machar, meanwhile, told French radio he was ready to negotiate the president's departure and said the army could force Kiir out unless he resigned.

The violence prompted the American and British governments to urge their citizens to leave the country and the United Nations to evacuate staff from its facilities.

In a Dec. 18 statement, the bishops condemned the clashes at the military barracks but also said they wanted to "condemn and correct the media statements and reports that refer to the violence as conflict between the Dinka and Nuer tribes."

"These are political differences among the Sudan People's Liberation Movement party, political leaders of the Republic of South Sudan," the church leaders said.

In a similar statement the previous day, the church leaders urged reconciliation within the political party.

"The way this incident is handled will have an effect on the future of our nation, whether positive or negative, both internally and in terms of international relations," the church leaders said Dec. 17 in a statement read to media on their behalf by Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba.

Both statements appealed to the government to take control of the situation and protect its citizens. The church leaders said soldiers are asking people to identify themselves by tribe, which was wrong because "we are all South Sudanese."

"We condemn such acts of abuse and hope that no more human lives should be lost," they said, without mentioning how many had been killed.

"Our citizens are running for refuge in U.N. compounds because they do not feel safe from their own security forces," said the Dec. 18 statement signed by Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Pentecostal and other Christian leaders.

They appealed to political leaders to avoid hate speech and to initiate dialogue. They also asked the international community to respond quickly to the growing humanitarian crisis of people fleeing the violence.

END


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