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> 2014-04-29 15:52:53
South Sudan faces risk of “very bad” famine and no early end to conflict
(Vatican Radio) International mediators have called on South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar to meet his rival, President Salva Kiir to prevent the nation’s conflict from turning into a full-scale genocide. Their appeal came after a UN official warned that the recent mass killing of over 200 civilians in the town of Bentiu by rebels loyal to Machar had echoes of the Rwandan genocide and called it a game-changer.
The fighting has displaced over a million people and aid agencies are warning that the nation faces a looming famine if people are prevented from planting their crops because of the continuing violence.
John Ashworth is an adviser to the Churches in South Sudan and works for the Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation in South Sudan which is supported by Catholic Relief Services. He told Susy Hodges that the “deliberate targeting of ethnic groups” is very alarming and he doesn’t foresee an early resolution of this crisis.
Listen to the full interview with John Ashworth:
Referring to the recent massacre in the town of Bentiu, Ashworth described as “very worrying” this “ethnic cleansing and “the hate speech” that was broadcast over the local radio beforehand (echoing what happened before the Rwandan genocide).
Asked how hopeful he was of an early peaceful settlement of the conflict, Ashworth explained that there are many long-standing unresolved problems in South Sudan hampering the search for peace. He said the position taken by the churches and many other observers is that “it’s not enough to do a stitch-up” agreement between the two bitter rivals (President Kiir and his sacked deputy Machar) and that “this time around” they need to agree on a “much broader” framework for a peace deal. “We have to find a solution which really has the ownership of the South Sudanese people.”
Ashworth has just returned from his latest visit to the war-torn country and said the local population is very despondent about the fighting. “They are very, very disappointed and disillusioned that this has happened so soon after independence.” “People are even ashamed and embarrassed that this has happened in a (new) country that began with so much hope and expectations.”
He paid tribute to the active role played by the Catholic Church and the other Christian denominations to try to promote peace and reconciliation as well as their work “to alleviate the humanitarian situation.” Asked how serious is the risk of famine, Ashworth described it as “very serious,” pointing out that this would not be the first time the nation has had to cope with a similar tragedy but he believed this looming famine could be “a very bad” one.