South Sudan church leaders sent a memorandum to civil and security leaders this week requesting a meeting to discuss the nation’s conflict and refugee crisis.

Edward Dima, pastor of First Baptist Church of Kajo-Keji and president of the Baptist Convention of South Sudan, told, “Church leaders … don’t shy away in my county. We face the truth with the government forces, and we visit their barracks, and we rebuke them when an evil is … seen.”

The nation’s years of independence since 2011 have been punctuated by intermittent conflict.

A civil war broke out in late 2013 due to a power struggle between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), also known as SPLA-IG (in government), loyal to the nation’s president, Salva Kiir, and the SPLA In Opposition (SPLA-IO) loyal to the former vice president, Riek Machar.

A peace treaty was signed in August 2015, but it failed to bring a lasting cessation of hostilities.

Renewed fighting broke out in the spring of 2016, and the conflict has spread to new regions, such as Kajo-Keji in June and Yei in September.

The U.N. reports that the civil war has resulted in 1 million people becoming refugees and 1.61 million becoming internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The memorandum, provided to by Dima, was addressed to the government commissioners of the counties of Kajo-Keji, Nyepo, Liwolo and Kangapo, and was also sent to the army commander, police commander and internal security leader in the region.

It noted “the enormous task” faced by the commissioners and pledged to pray for their efforts to lead their county and to seek peace.

Having “scanned through the security situation,” there is “great concern” among the church leaders, the memo said, because of “cases of arbitrary arrests, detentions, burning down of our people’s homes, looting of property including food, money and domestic appliances.”

These actions are being perpetrated against innocent civilians by both the government forces (SPLA-IG) and the opposition forces (SPLA-IO) “and has resulted in scores of people streaming into refugee camps in great numbers on [a] daily basis.”

The church leaders expressed their desire to meet with civilian and military leaders in order “to map out the way forward to bring these atrocities to an end and guarantee the security and stop the ongoing outflow of our people to exile and refugee camps to continue encountering untold suffering there.”

Twelve actions were cited as essential to improving the security of citizens. These included a request that local church leaders “be allowed (without being victimized) to make contacts with the SPLA-IO to try and get them to desist from harassing, victimizing or cause injury/death to any civilian for any reason whatsoever.”

The memo added, “Our aim as the church is to sow the seeds of honesty, harmony and the fear of God in the society so that peace can take root in our nation. We shall, therefore, take the same message to both SPLA-IG and SPLA-IO.”

Editor’s note: A video interview in which Dima shares about South Sudan’s history can be viewed here. Previous articles related to South Sudan are available here, and photos from South Sudan provided by Dima can be found here. FBC Kajo-Keji’s Facebook page is here.

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