(From left) Bishop Hillary Luate Adeba (ECSS&S), Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe (Roman Catholic Church) and Bishop Elias Taban (EPC), addressing the press in Yei.
Church leaders in Yei River State, one of the 28 states of South Sudan, have called on government and armed opposition groups to use non-violent means to resolve their differences and end the suffering of civilians.
The call comes as Yei River State new deputy governor Augustino Kiri Gwolo and two county commissioners, Denis Lasuba of Yei River County and Eresto Taban Luate of Lainya, took their oaths of office on Friday.
The state has witnessed defection of state and local officials to armed opposition amid mounting insecurity.
“Let us now focus on building peace with armed groups through peaceful means,” Bishop Hillary Luate Adeba of Yei Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ECSS&S), told local and state government officials and community leaders, during the swearing in ceremony last Friday.
According to church leaders, Yei was hosting a population of more than 57,000 people but this has dropped to 51, 000 people – meaning 6,000 have fled the town due to insecurity.
Bishop Hillary said building peace will help to keep the remaining citizens of Yei in the state, and prevent them from fleeing to rural areas or neighbouring countries for safety. He cautioned that incidents of misuse of guns will compel the remaining people to leave because they fear for their lives.
“Let the guns fall silent in Yei town. It will build confidence … and it will encourage even people who ran away to come back to Yei,” he said.
Evangelical Presbyterian Church Bishop Elias Taban called on political and religious leaders to continue to stand with the people in the search for peace in the state.
He said leaders should stop blaming each other for failures, but should instead forgive and forge a way to solve the challenges facing the country.
Bishop Taban accused some unnamed church leaders of getting deep into politics, thus forsaking their profession and compromising their calling.
“We who have been ordained as ministers of the Word of God, have now joined politics and we are the worst politicians; we should not compromise,” he said.
Catholic Bishop of Yei, Erkolano Lodu Tombe, assured government officials present that the Church will not relent in its pursuit of lasting peace in the country.
“Do not leave us in the church alone when you see us going astray,” he told the officials.
The church leaders condemned the recent brutal murder of innocent civilians in Pukuka, North West of Yei town. They said such acts continue to tarnish the image of Yei and the nation as “an evil and demonized country”.
“The government and church leaders must unite to stop these kinds of atrocities going on in the community,” said Bishop Hillary.
Meanwhile, State Governor David Lokonga Moses said he has given church leaders and local chiefs the go-ahead to find possible ways of talking to the armed opposition groups, in a bid to amicably resolve their grievances.
“You are given the green light to make your contacts. I’m here and even the army is yearning for peace. We want to make sure that the Christmas celebration is done in a peaceful environment,” he told the church leaders.