ZENIT News: Whole Diocese in South Sudan Abandoned
'Ceasefire' Brings No End to Violence
ROME, March 14, 2014 (Zenit.org) - Entire swathes of a region in South Sudan have been abandoned by the local people who – according to their Church leader – have fled for their lives following a brutal attack carried out during a so-called ceasefire.
Monsignor Roko Taban, apostolic administrator of Malakal, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that a mass evacuation had been carried out across parts of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei States in the wake of violence involving rebel forces under Riek Machar, South Sudan’s former vice president.
Mgr. Taban reported that all his diocesan priests and women religious had fled south and were desperate to escape the violence which he stressed had continued despite last January’s ceasefire between the rebels and South Sudan government forces.
Describing how much of his diocese had been “completely destroyed,” the prelate said: “We have lost everything – all our possessions. Many of our churches, homes and so on have been razed to the ground – and everything has been looted.”
He said that the last four priests in the Malakal Diocese were hoping to be evacuated, possibly today, depending on the availability of transport. Mgr. Taban, who alongside his priests is temporarily accommodated in a Catholic seminary in Juba, highlighted his concern for his faithful in Malakal. He said they had fled “to the bush,” with many seeking refuge in remote villages which were now completely overwhelmed by the number of new arrivals.
Catholic Church sources have reported that the population of 250,000 in Malakal City are in desperate need, with many of them seeking help from a nearby UN displacement camp. Mgr. Taban said: “Nobody [is] in Malakal. They ran for their lives. It was not possible for anybody to stay. The diocese is completely empty.We have lost everything as a diocese. We are in Juba with nothing. All documents have gone. No vehicles. There is absolutely nothing left.”
The Church leader said his priests needed a “food allowance for six months” as well as basic prayer books and vestments for Mass, all of which they had been forced to leave behind in Malakal.
Church leaders across the country urged help for people in the region whose entire livelihoods have been destroyed. Mgr. Taban said: “[We] need special attention of solidarity and love. We are miserable. Kindly remember us in your prayers.”
Having also escaped Malakal for Juba, Comboni missionary Sister Elena Balatti said: “Malakal… is completely deserted, although our safety was guaranteed. Staying there would have been completely useless because we would not have had anyone to assist. The rebels are the only ones present.”
In her message, sent to Catholic news agency Fides, Sisterr Elena said that Malakal had been attacked three times by the rebel forces—on Christmas Eve, on Jan. 14 and on Feb. 18. She said that each attack had prompted a wave of migration from Malakal.
Nearly two weeks ago, the UN sounded the alarm about South Sudan, warning that the country could collapse before the end of the year and adding that nearly 900,000 had been displaced since the conflict erupted in mid-December. March 20 is the scheduled date for the resumption of peace talks between Mr. Machar’s rebels and the government of South Sudan. Both sides accuse each other of breaking the Jan. 23 ceasefire.