A top Vatican envoy is urging South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar to peacefully end the wave of violence that gripped the capital, Juba, for four days last week, leaving hundreds of people dead and thousands of others displaced.
Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson met Tuesday with Kiir and delivered a message directly from Pope Francis. Turkson, who is from Ghana, said he discussed with Kiir the need to peacefully end the recent conflict in South Sudan. He said Kiir assured him that he remains committed to restoring peace in the country.
The cardinal says he wanted to meet with Machar, but the former rebel leader fled Juba shortly after the fighting broke out and is staying at an undisclosed location in South Sudan, according to a spokesman.
Kiir strongly opposes a proposal by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional body, and the African Union to deploy regional troops to Juba to stabilize the capital and act as a buffer between forces loyal to the president and those loyal to Machar. Turkson says the president conveyed that he is receptive to a meeting with Machar.
Turkson said Kiir is not opposed to a third-party security force to ensure Machar's safety, but refuses to allow any foreign troops to stay in South Sudan for any other reason.
The cardinal said he urged Kiir to share the content of Pope Francis' letter with officials in the Transitional Government of National Unity.
Victims of fighting
During his four-day visit, Turkson also met with hundreds of internally displaced people sheltering at a United Nations camp in Juba, and witnessed firsthand how they were suffering.
"How can we ensure safety and security for the people so that they can be able to live in their houses and be able to provide development in the area … so that they can find their way in helping South Sudan to develop and grow?" he said.
Turkson also met the SPLA Chief of Staff Paul Malong, who briefed him on the latest casualty figures. Turkson called it unacceptable that such a huge number of civilians and soldiers were killed.
"The chief of defense has said 300 people-plus lost their lives,” he said. “It's a very sad thing. When I told the pope, he also expressed the desire someday to visit South Sudan. You know, to lose 300 people of your population, whether they are soldiers or not, it's not a comfortable thing."
Turkson passed messages of condolence to the families who lost loved ones, and spoke to Malong about the need to quickly end the conflict and restore peace.
Turkson urged the South Sudanese people not to lose hope, adding that he believes the country will be able to overcome its hardships.