UNMISS chief outlines churches and mission role in keeping peace
9 May 2012 - Churches in South Sudan were vital in mediating and realizing peace in the new nation, UNMISS head Hilde F. Johnson said today in the Central Equatoria town of Yei.
"In South Sudan, to promote peace and build peace, the churches have a critical role to play," Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) Johnson told participants during the opening of a three-day conference at the Episcopal Church of the Sudan.
"During the years of the struggle, it was the churches that did a lot of the inter-communal reconciliations processes," the SRSG said.
The three-day conference aimed to bring together Roman Catholic and the Episcopal Church leaders to explore major issues facing them and seek avenues for confronting these challenges.
Ms. Johnson especially lauded churches for their role in the Acholi-Madi conflict in Eastern Equatoria State and for mediating the peace initiative in Jonglei State.
On current political developments, the SRSG said South Sudan had seen difficult security challenges over the past month.
"We have witnessed the recent ... aerial bombardments and ground attacks in the northern states of the country bordering the Republic of Sudan," Ms. Johnson said. "We have seen killing and miming of civilians."
She said many community and religious leaders felt abandoned by UNMISS, as they were unaware of its role in the country.
"I would like to reassure you that South Sudanese have not been abandoned or betrayed," she said. "The international community stands in solidarity with you."
The SRSG stressed that UNMISS had made intensive efforts to condemn the violence and call for an end to all hostilities. "We have been monitoring, verifying, and reporting on these attacks to the Security Council."
Ms. Johnson said resolutions had been adopted drawing a clear roadmap establishing definitive deadlines for secession of hostilities within 48 hours, withdrawal of armed forces to either side of the border, and immediate resumption of negotiations.
The resolutions set a deadline for completion of all pending issues within three months, she said.
The Council had also called for the establishment of a joint border verification and monitoring mechanism (JVBMM) within one week, the SRSG said, and creation of a de-militarized zone of 10 kilometers wide along the common border.
"What is important for everyone to know is that the UN has not taken any decision on the status of any of the disputed areas and Heglig," Ms. Johnson said. "What the UN and the Security Council have taken is to use legal and political, peaceful means to achieve territorial things, but not military means."
"If any country in the world uses military means to achieve territorial claims, it will be condemned, and that is what happened," she said of the condemnation of Heglig's occupation by South Sudan's army.
Ms. Johnson noted that UNMISS' mandate was to help strengthen government institutions so that South Sudan could build a strong and independent nation, and protect its citizens.
"If there is a sense of monopoly of power in South Sudan, that somebody has more power than others, either communal or otherwise, it creates insecurity," she said.
The SRSG urged church leaders to pass on her messages to their various congregations for a better understanding of the mission's role.
Addressing the conference's aim, Yei River County Commissioner Juma David Augustine said it was part of the common front to ensure peace, reconciliation and sustainable development.
"When there seems to be no government, the church provides leadership; where there seems to be no shelter for the people, the church lobbies and provides shelter for the people; where there seems to be no hope, the church has been there to assemble to give us hope," the commissioner said.
Daniel Deng Bol, Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, praised UNMISS for its role in assisting with peace efforts in Jonglei State through logistical support.
"If it was not by the help of UNMISS, the conference of the six Jonglei tribes would not have happened," said the archbishop, adding that the mission should continue to offer support.