South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir promised on Friday as the country marked its 10th anniversary that he would not plunge the country 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 President 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.
President 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,” he 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”.
Earlier on Wednesday at a an interview with a Kenyan TV station, President Kiir said Kenya’s Head of State Uhuru Kenyatta worked against him seven years go to rescue a group of politicians detained for trying to oust him in December 2013.
“These people projected themselves as leaders of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and that they were the people who fought the war. It was not true,” said President Kiir.
Now referred to as Former Political Detainees, the group had initially been charged with treason and detained by President Kiir’s government following the eruption of violence on December 15, 2013 after his security forces clashed with forces loyal to then Vice President Riek Machar.
President Kiir at the time claimed there had been a plot to remove him from power and started a series of arrests of politicians in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) accused of wanting him out.
The argument in Kenya at the time was to help remove the politicians from a possible clash point and enable the parties negotiate a political settlement. A few weeks later, they would sign two deals to cease fire and release the detainees.
President Kiir said the opposition group, which has since splintered into smaller groups but still earned positions back into the government of national unity, had tried to deceive every leader in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), except Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.