church leaders are urging parties in the South Sudanese conflict to respect
places of worship, after rebels attacked and looted church compounds in the
town of Malakal.
Roman Catholic Cathedral of Malakal was looted at gunpoint, forcing priests and
civilians to flee, a regional church leader said.
and Presbyterian churches, a hospital, and an orphanage have become safe havens
for refugees escaping the fighting in the city.
came to know myself what it means to be asked for something under the threat of
a gun when a group in uniform stopped me on the way from the hospital to the
church,” said one Catholic priest, who did not give his name because he fears
for his safety. “They blocked me and took my watch and a key.”
conflict began Dec. 15 after President Salva Kiir alleged that his former
deputy Riek Machar was planning a coup and arrested several senior politicians.
(Seven of the 12 politicians arrested then were released Wednesday.) Since the
conflict started, soldiers loyal to Kiir and rebels aligned with Machar have
been engaged in bloody battles across the country.
fighting has taken on an ethnic dimension, pitting Kiir’s Dinka tribe and
Machar’s Nuer one.
has been heaviest in Malakal, which is seen as a gateway to oilfields in the
north. Rebels looted shops and businesses there in mid-January before turning
to homes and churches.
urge the fighters to respect the places of worship,” said the Rev. Ferdinand
Lugonzo, general secretary of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences
in Eastern Africa. “They should not force out civilians who already feel safe
in the church compounds.”
have been providing aid to victims of the conflict with support from
international relief organizations. As of Jan. 18, the Catholic cathedral in
the town was harboring 6,500 refugees.
U.N. compound is hosting an additional 20,000. More than 600,000 people have
been displaced in the fighting countrywide.
first thought this was spontaneous and the rebels were simply looking for
houses to loot, but the attack on churches, which are clearly marked, is very
disturbing,” said Lugonzo. “At all costs these premises must be revered.”
both sides signed a cease-fire agreement last week at peace talks in Addis
Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, clashes have continued, with both sides being
accused of human rights abuses.