Pope Francis: Peace is Possible in South Sudan

Pope Francis: Peace is Possible in South Sudan

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar signed a peace deal past year that calls on them to form a unity government on May 12.

At the close of an unprecedented two-day retreat in the Vatican for the African leaders, the Pope appealed to President Salva Kiir, his former deputy-turned-rebel leader Riek Machar, and three other vice presidents to respect an armistice they signed and commit to forming a unity government next month.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but had been gripped by a bloody civil war since 2013 until a peace deal was finally signed in September of previous year.

"We have refugees who will not return if they don't feel secure, we have IDPs (internally displaced people) in the capital and in other major cities who will not go back to their homes which they have left five and a half years ago because of security problems", he said.

The pontiff who spoke in Italian - which was translated by an aide into English - added that "but in front of the people, hold hands united". It remains to be seen whether his ouster will imperil the peace deal.

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In an exclusive interview with Reuters, Machar, who is slated to be first vice-president in the unity government, also said he is confident that the new military leadership in Khartoum will continue to guarantee the fragile South Sudan peace deal.

"Peace is the fundamental condition for ensuring the rights of each individual and the integral development of an entire people".

In his address earlier on Thursday, Francis said South Sudan's people were exhausted by war and the leaders had a duty to build their young nation in justice.

When South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of war, the people were filled with hope, the pope said. Welby had proposed the idea of the retreat to the pope.

"By your gift, Father, may the whole-hearted search for peace resolve disputes, may love conquer hatred and may revenge be disarmed by forgiveness, so that, relying exclusively on your mercy, we may find our way back to you", he prayed.

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