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South Sudan future at risk without peace deal

07 January 2014, 08:16

Juba - South Sudanese rivals negotiating a ceasefire to end raging conflict hold the fate of their young nation in their hands, one of the country's most respected religious leaders said Monday.

"Our people are dying all over, and for what?" said Daniel Deng Bul, who as the Episcopal Archbishop of South Sudan is one of the most senior spiritual leaders in the young nation.

Over three weeks of conflict have taken South Sudan to the brink of all-out civil war.

Peace talks between South Sudan's government and rebels finally started in Ethiopia on Monday, after days of negotiation where the rivals met separately with mediators to simply agree an agenda for the talks.

"We need peace in this country... those brothers and sisters who are sitting in Addis Ababa, we are telling them we don't need war," Bul told AFP.

"It is a meaningless conflict... they can disagree on politics, but must agree to a ceasefire straight away."

Across the road from his office in the capital Juba, wounded recovered in the capital's hospital from gun battles, after fierce political rivalry sparked clashes between rival army units, that at times has escalated into neighbours killing neighbours.

"Our fear is that if they don't agree on a deal, then this is going to get worse," he said.

'Enough is enough'

Both sides have vowed to step up their offensives across the country, with tank battles between army units, less than three years after celebrating a hard-fought independence from Khartoum.

"Enough is enough, over a thousand people have been killed," Bul said.

Bul comes originally from the rebel-held town of Bor -- which the army is battling to wrest back for a second time -- said the fighting was ruining the young nation.

"It has damaged credibility of our army, it has damaged credibility of our politicians, it has damaged the credibility of all of us in this country," he said.

"All that we have been trying to do to bring this country together, to live as one family, has already been damaged."

Conflict erupted on December 15, pitting army units loyal to President Salva Kiir against a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and mutinous army commanders nominally headed by Riek Machar, a former vice president who was sacked last July.

On the surface it appears to be business as normal in Juba, with motorbikes weaving in and out of the busy traffic and builders working on the latest construction sites in this rapidly growing city.

Juba has always been a city of guns, and the sight of soldiers with ammunition belts hanging onto the back of ultra-fast pickup trucks speeding through the streets is nothing unusual.

On the lush green banks of the White Nile river, children still dive into the slow waters to cool off from the heat of the baking sun, laughing and swimming unconcerned apparently even about crocodiles.

But some 30,000 people are still too terrified to leave the cramped confines of United Nations peacekeeping bases in the capital, fearing reprisal attacks if they go home.

At night, sporadic gun battles have erupted and tensions remain high.

Shops remain boarded up, with thousands having fled to their original home areas or across into neighbouring Kenya or Uganda.

"It is time for us to talk of peace, to talk of development, to let our people have that rest... We have been in war for 55 years," Bul said, referring to the two civil wars that ravaged the region before Sudan split in two in 2011.

"This is a time for our people to rest... not a time for them to be killed by their own brothers."

UN officials say they believe thousands of people have already been killed, and both sides are alleged to have committed atrocities.

UN peacekeeping bases have also been overwhelmed with tens of thousands civilians seeking shelter.

Many say they are fleeing ethnic violence between the Dinka community of Kiir and Nuer tribe of Machar.

But Bul is adamant that the root cause of the violence

"This war has nothing to do with ethnicity," he said. "It's a power struggle."



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