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Priest Decries Youths on ‘Path of Death’ After Latest South Sudan Violence 

FILE - In this photo taken Dec. 9, 2018, a group of youths walk on top of a small hill of dirt in the United Nations protection of civilians site in Bentiu, South Sudan.
FILE - In this photo taken Dec. 9, 2018, a group of youths walk on top of a small hill of dirt in the United Nations protection of civilians site in Bentiu, South Sudan.

After inter-communal clashes in South Sudan’s Lakes state killed at least 20 people, a church leader said he fears the country’s youth are on the “path of death.”

At least 20 people were killed and nearly 40 others were wounded in clashes Saturday, local officials said.

The conflict began June 24 when unidentified gunmen attacked Pachong Payam, which led to counterattacks, said Captain Elijah Mabor Makuach, Lakes state police spokesperson.

“On June 25, other armed groups raided unspecified areas in Awac-Lual cattle camp and went away. On June 26, a group of armed men attacked Gorok, specifically a place called Meen-Waal, where they found some young men who were taking baths and started firing, killing one person and wounding others. This triggered accusations among these warring communities and the security situation has become very volatile,” Makuach told South Sudan in Focus.

Acting Lakes state administrator Martin Machiech deployed soldiers to end the fighting and quell mounting tensions in the area, Makuach said. The heads of state security agencies also visited the area to urge the warring communities to lay down their weapons, he said.

“The government has put in place different mechanisms such that [the] security situation could be solved, even a high-level committee of the state including [the] secretary general and the police commissioner approached the warring communities to sort out their differences to remain in peace,” Makuach told VOA.

The Reverend Father Augustine Ekeno, a Catholic priest with the Society of Jesus, a local Jesuit community, said he saw hundreds of armed young people mobilizing Saturday morning in Rumbek East County.

“They were carrying the viciousness. I saw them moving and running [which] demonstrated to me we have allowed our young generation to choose the path of death. Why are we sitting down and allowing the young generation to choose the path of death? What are we doing to make sure we encourage, motivate our young people to choose the path of life,” Ekeno said to South Sudan in Focus.

Ekeno called on the government to intervene and end “this culture of violence and death” in South Sudan, noting that other governments have been successful at engaging youth and ending inter-communal violence.

“Other young people of their age in other countries are focusing on building their own future. I saw many young people who are investing their energy, investing their youth in destruction. That is what made me feel really sorry. I feel sorry for their communities, and I feel sorry for our country, South Sudan,” Ekeno told VOA.

The Jesuit priest called on government leaders to disarm civilians.

“I urge them as their spiritual leader to continue [on the] path of disarmament to remove the guns from our brother, which is causing a lot of destruction, and if we do that successfully, peace will reign in this country,” Ekeno said.