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NBA Star Deng Promotes Unity Among Fractured South Sudanese

Basketball star Luol Deng during an interview by VOA's South Sudan In Focus reporter Ayen Bior in Washington, D.C., Aug. 27, 2015.

When South Sudanese basketball star Luol Deng comes to Washington, it's usually to play against the NBA's Washington Wizards. But this week, he's come for a much bigger cause - encouraging unity among his war-torn people.

On Saturday, Deng and his foundation are hosting "South Sudan Unite," an event on the campus of George Washington University billed as a night of arts and culture "to remember the diverse beauty that makes up the young country of South Sudan."

The event comes just days after South Sudanese President Salva Kiir signed a peace treaty aimed at ending the 20-month civil war that has torn the nation apart and displaced more than 2 million people.

In an interview at VOA Thursday, Deng did not mention Kiir or rebel leader Riek Machar, but made clear he wants to see the war come to an end.

"This is the time, this is the time," he said. The current generation must stabilize South Sudan, he said, or "the next generation is only going to know pain."

He said he understands that South Sudanese at home and in the diaspora have strong feelings about the war, but urged them to talk to each other.

"I'm really trying to promote unity," he said.

Deng has two roles. The first is playing in the NBA, which he's done for three teams over an 11-year career. The second - funded by the first - is being a humanitarian activist for Africans in general and South Sudanese in particular.

"It's like having two seasons," he told VOA. He plays basketball each year from October to April or May, then begins a summer working on events and projects. He says he holds basketball clinics with kids in South Sudan to give them "positive energy" and a role model.

Earlier this month, his foundation opened an outdoor basketball court at Juba University named after the late Manute Bol, another well-known player who hailed from South Sudan.

The 30-year-old Deng, who currently plays for the Miami Heat, said there's still a lot he wants to accomplish in his career, but added that when he retires from the court, his humanitarian work will continue.

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