JUBA (Reuters) – South Sudan President Salva Kiir promised on Friday as the country marked its 10th anniversary that he would not plunge it back into war, as Pope Francis said he would visit if political leaders did more to maintain a fragile peace.
Violence exploded in South Sudan in late 2013, two years after it seceded from Sudan, when Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, sacked vice president Riek Machar, from the rival Nuer group.
The two men have since then signed many deals to end a war fuelled by long-standing ethnic tensions and estimated to have killed more than 400,000 people, finally forming a government of national unity last year.
Kiir dissolved parliament in May, paving the way for an expanded legislature of 550 members, to include representatives from all ethnic groupings under the terms of the most recent peace deal.
“I assure you that I will not return you back to war again,” Kiir said in a speech marking independence day. “Let us all work together to recover the lost decade and put our country back to the path of development in this new decade.”
On Friday, Pope Francis told South Sudan’s leaders they had to do much more to establish peace and promised to visit the country, where violence is still raging in some areas, according to United Nations reports.
“Sadly, your people continue to live in fear and uncertainty,” Francis said in their joint message with two other Christian leaders, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Moderator of the Church of Scotland Jim Wallace.
“(They) lack confidence that their nation can indeed deliver the ‘justice, liberty and prosperity’ celebrated in your national anthem,” they said, adding that peace “may require personal sacrifice from you”.
Kiir, Machar and other politicians of predominantly Christian South Sudan were hosted at a Vatican retreat in 2019, where, on the last day, Francis knelt at their feet as he urged them not to return to conflict.
(Reporting by Denis Dumo in Juba and Philip Pullella in Rome; writing by Omar Mohammed; editing by John Stonestreet)