South Sudanese refugees in a refugee camp in Sudan South Sudanese refugees in a refugee camp in Sudan 

Pope Francis prays for peace in South Sudan

Pope Francis asks for prayers for South Sudan as armed conflict escalates in the country’s Upper Nile state forcing thousands of people to flee their homes. His appeal comes as he prepares to undertake an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace to the East African country.

By Linda Bordoni & Nathan Morley

Pope Francis said he is following with concern the news from South Sudan about the violent clashes of recent days.

“Let us pray to the Lord for peace and national reconciliation, that the attacks will cease and that civilians will always be respected.”

The appeal after the Sunday Angelus resonates as the UN Refugee Agency warns of the worsening humanitarian situation caused by the intensifying armed conflict in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state that has displaced tens of thousands of vulnerable people, and comes ahead of the Pope's scheduled ecumenical pilgrimage for peace to South Sudan from 3 to 5 February 2023.

Conflict and displacement

Meanwhile, recent reports estimate that more than 9,000 people have fled the most recent violence in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state.

The spiraling violence continues to inflict human misery across the region.

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR says at least 20,000 people have fled since August, including several thousand over the border.

Since last month, around 9,000 people – mostly women and children – have been displaced after battles between armed factions erupted in Upper Nile’s Fashoda County.

Reporting on the dire situation, the United Nations said some people were forced to hide in marshes and bushes to avoid danger.

The violence in the region has killed scores of people. Fleeing civilians are traumatized and report killings, injuries, gender-based violence, abductions, extortion, pillaging and the torching of property. 

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Sudan, the United Nations organized a meeting with diplomats from the African Union to discuss the worsening crisis last week. It came as military leaders agreed to hand back power to civilian groups in a major move to end an ongoing political crisis.

The country has been gripped by calamity since the army overthrew long-time leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

Sant'Egidio brokered agreement

In Juba meanwhile, the government has withdrawn from peace negotiations with rebel groups, accusing them of using the talks “to buy time as they prepare for war”.

The talks between government representatives and a coalition of rebel groups that did not sign a 2018 peace agreement that ended a five-year civil war were brokered by the Rome-based Sant’Egidio community.

Negotiations began in 2019 but have failed to curb violence in the country's south, despite a ceasefire signed in January 2020.

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11 December 2022, 12:39