South Sudan Church Seeks Peace Among Tribes

By Stan Friedman

MALAKAL, SOUTH SUDAN (January 24, 2012) – The Evangelical Covenant Church of South Sudan (ECCSS) is working with other church and civilian organizations to pursue peace in this country that has seen hundreds of men, women, and children murdered and more than 120,000 people driven from their homes in recent months due to tribal conflict.

“We are planning to join efforts to form a peace initiative pillar that will negotiate peace between Murle and Lou Nuer and with other neighboring tribes who are also in conflict with the Murle,” says Matthewj Malual, ECCSS project director.

The ECCSS is comprised almost entirely of Lou Nuer individuals. The conflict stretches back decades centering largely on economic issues; however, the conflict has intensified since mid-2011 when members of the Murle tribe attacked the Lou Nuer, killing more than 100 individuals. Women and children were kidnapped and thousands of cattle were stolen.

Map highlighting State of Jonglei

James Tang, an Evangelical Covenant Church missionary to South Sudan, says his aunt was among those killed as she tried to flee attackers last August. In December and earlier this month, an estimated 6,000 armed Nuer youth took revenge, killing an unconfirmed number of people. They also kidnapped women and children and stole thousands of cattle, the primary source of livelihood for both tribes.

Click here to read more of last fall’s attack.

That was followed by a Murle revenge counterattack on January 12, during which 57 people – mostly women and children – were killed in the middle of the night. Two children and three women Covenanters were among those killed, Malual says. The child of another Covenanter was one of eight who were kidnapped.

The United Nations (UN) has reported that at least 1,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted last June. A UN peacekeeping force and government troops did little to deter the attacks because they were so outgunned, it has been stated.

The attacks have been carried out in the southeast state of Jonglei, the largest in South Sudan. It is about the size of Bangladesh.

“The conflict between the two tribes was accelerated by the longest civil war of Sudan that increased the presence of small firearms in the hands of civilians,” says Malual.

South Sudan gained its independence from the north last July. It is considered one of the poorest nations in the world and has almost no infrastructure.

The Lou Nuer attackers have claimed the attacks were for the sole purpose of retrieving the kidnapped women and children, but Malual says, “The retaliation attack was highly motivated by the greed for cattle.”

Malual adds, “Rampant competition over the scarce resources caused by chronic poverty has contributed to the dramatic increase of continuous cattle raids and abductions of vulnerable people between the two tribes. Cattle are a sign of status and used to pay bride price in South Sudan.”

None of the ECCSS leaders have encouraged or participated in the attacks, says Malual. “We have bylaws in the church that state there shall be no ECCSS church leaders that will not be involved in either ethnic fighting or retaliation. The ECCSS Administration office is very serious on such acts, and the church leaders on the ground respect that rule.”

Malual says he cannot rule out that members of the church took part in the attacks, “as they might have considered it as a community obligation.”

The ECCSS has sought to be a force since its inception, says Malual. Leaders of the church are meeting with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and the Episcopal Church of South Sudan along with other civil organizations to consider how they might contribute to reconciliation efforts involving the tribes, despite the bitter conflict.

“The way to encourage the two antagonistic communities who have gone through the terrible experience of murders, kidnapping and stolen cattle to forgive one another is to use the Christian model of forgiveness and methods of conflict management,” Malual says.

Although the tribes are killing each other, some are healing together. “Wounded civilians from both sides of an escalating conflict between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities in South Sudan’s Jonglei state lie side by side in the steaming heat of a hospital ward in the new country’s capital, Juba,” states a report released today by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Malual asks that Covenanters pray for peace among the ethnic groups as well as between Sudan and South Sudan. Covenant World Relief (CWR) has donated life-saving supplies to the church in the past.

In a Covenant News Service story published in January 2011, CWR director David Husby said he is amazed at the generosity of the ECCSS. In a nation where identifying who is the most impoverished is akin to determining who has the least of nothing, the South Sudanese church has distributed the assistance according to need, regardless of whether people belong to the church, he noted.

Click here to donate to the Covenant World Relief general fund or one of the individual funds related to work in South Sudan. To learn about other ways to become involved in supporting the people of South Sudan, click here.

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