At least 40 church leaders have been killed across South Sudan between December 2013 and March 2017, a new research has revealed.
South Sudan descended into civil war in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir fell out with his former deputy Dr. Riek Machar. The two rival forces are being accused of involvement in the killing of the church leaders.
The investigations carried by South Sudan based Radio Tamazuj, found that 32 of the 40 church leaders killed were ordained priests, mostly of South Sudan’s Episcopal Church, while others were from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and Catholic Church.
The other seven church leaders included evangelists and lay readers who were also brutally killed in different churches based on their ethnicity in Western Equatorial in 2016.
According to Radio Tamazuj, Although South Sudan’s Council of Churches declined to talk about the matter, the media house managed to reach out to several Christian leaders who confirmed the figure of the church leaders killed either by government soldiers or rebel fighters across the country since the outbreak of the civil war in 2013.
Rev. William Tut, a pastor of Sudan Sudan’s Evangelical Presbyterian Church, said at least 10 pastors from their church have been killed since December 2013 in deferent parts of South Sudan. He pointed out that Rev. Simon Nyang who was killed on his way to the UN camp in the capital Juba on 16 December 2013.
Former Upper Nile State
Rev. Tut said that Rev. Daniel Giel Pal, Rev. James Chuol Rual and James Atier were killed inside a Presbyterian church in Malakal town in January 2014 when the war broke out in Malakal town.
He added: Rev. Yohanis Bor Koang and Rev. Simon Diu Rial were killed between Bailiet and Ulang Counties in former Upper Nile State by government troops in May 2015.
Former Unity State
The religious leader pointed out that Rev. William Nyuon Chany and Rev. Peter Par Thiich were also killed in former Unity State in 2014 and 2015. Tut noted that Rev. William Nyuon was killed on his way to the UN camp in May 2014 in Bentiu town, while Peter Par Thiich was killed in Mayendit County in 2015.
He explained that most of their priests were killed inside the churches, while others were killed on their way to the UN camps in Jonglei, Unity, Upper Nile and Central Equatoria States.
The Presbyterian priest accused the government troops of killing his colleagues in different parts of South Sudan.
“What I came to realize is that people in South Sudan do not respect church leaders, but we shall not give up, we shall continue praying for those who do not need peace until they accept it,” said Tut. “We need peace and we will pray for those who see the people of God as enemies to change their hearts,” he added.
Rev. Thomas Agou, Dean of St. Andrew Church, Diocese of Bor, said at least 15 Episcopal Church pastors were killed in different areas within the Dioceses of Bor in mid-January 2014 shortly after the war broke out in Juba.
He further said seven out the 15 pastors were murdered inside St. Andrew Church in Bor town allegedly by the White Army, a militia group loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar. The church leader noted that other two pastors from the same church were also killed in a road ambush laid by unknown gunmen along the Juba-Bor road in February 2015.
Agou said six pastors were also killed inside different churches in Jalle and Wernyol areas when suspected cattle raiders from neighbouring Boma State attacked those two villages in 2016.
“What can I say to those who do not respect the people of God like priests? They just kill anyhow based on ethnicity, especially if he hails from some tribes like Dinka and Nuer, they just kill, they do not care if he is a priest or not,’ said Agou.
Meanwhile, Rev. William Tut from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, said Rev. Alfred Majok Giek was killed on his way to the UN camp in Bor town on 19 December 2013.
In July 2015, Tut said, Rev. Moses Mun Tiel was also killed by government soldiers based on his ethnicity at Pajut area near Yuai town, the headquarters of Uror County.
Yei River State
Margret Jamba, Archdeacon of South Sudan’s Episcopal Church in Yei, said Rev. Simon Kwaje who was working as a priest at the Emmanuel Cathedral was brutally killed by unknown gunmen along the Juba-Mukaya road in March 2017.
Mama Hawa Adam, Deputy Chairperson for Yei County Women’s Association, said Rev. Francis Taban was shot and killed at his home by unknown gunmen on 30 March 2017.
Bishop Elie Kajaminyo of the Episcopal Church in Kajo-keji said their diocese lost one priest in Nyepo County in 2016.
He pointed out that Rev. Victor Sokil was killed by suspected government soldiers while looking after his cattle in Nyepo County.
In May 2016, Veronika Terézia Racková, a Catholic missionary sister, was killed by government soldiers at a checkpoint in Yei town while driving an ambulance with an expecting mother, according to reports from Yei.
Former Western Equatoria State
Pastor Felix Zara Kurai from the Episcopal diocese of Mundri said two ordained priests were killed in separate incidents within the government-controlled areas in Amadi State.
According to Felix, Rev. Lino Apollo was killed by unknown gunmen on 19 July 2016, saying Apollo was working as a pastor at Medewu parish.
The church leader further said another pastor identified as Rev. Simon Tatawa Wilson was killed by unknown gunmen in Mundri East County on March 24, 2017.
Mathew Taban Peter, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Wonduruba Diocese, said a Catholic catechist named Onesmo Wani was killed inside a church in Wonduruba County by SPLA-IO rebels in 2016.
William Gatjiath Deng, Spokesman of the SPLA-IO faction allied to Riek Machar, denied claims that they killed several church leaders.
“Our forces did not kill any church leaders, when we captured Bor town, I personally took seven priests to the UN PoC, “he claimed.
He further said the priests who lost their lives were killed in crossfire during clashes between the government forces and SPLA-IO troops.
Gatjiath accused the government forces of killing church leaders based on their ethnicity inside their churches and houses across the country.
The SPLA Deputy Military Spokesperson, Santo Domic denied reports that their forces killed dozens of church leaders in deferent parts of South Sudan.
“Before going to the media and claim that the SPLA army has killed a church leader, church leaders themselves should have taken the issue to court if they knew that it was the SPLA that killed the priest,” said Domic.
He pointed out that such baseless accusations are meant to smear the reputation of the SPLA army.
“Since 1980s, churches helped the SPLA army during the liberation struggle when we were fighting against the Khartoum government, even some SPLA officers have graduated from schools operated by churches, so I don’t think that the same SPLA can turn against the churches and kill priests, said Domic.
South Sudan’s presidential spokesperson, Ateny Wek Ateny, denied knowledge of dozens of church leaders being killed.
“I want to say that the government of South Sudan doesn’t have any problem with the church leaders even if some of them started speaking against the government, but we don’t have any problem with churches,” said Ateny.
The official pointed out that it is not a state policy to kill priests, while blaming criminals for the incidents in which dozens of pastors and other church leaders were killed across the country.
Source: Radio Tamazuj