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South Sudanese Women Pray Ahead of President, VP Talk

FILE - South Sudanese women living in a camp for internally displaced pray for peace during a visit by First Vice President Riek Machar in Juba, South Sudan, Feb. 26, 2023.
FILE - South Sudanese women living in a camp for internally displaced pray for peace during a visit by First Vice President Riek Machar in Juba, South Sudan, Feb. 26, 2023.

JUBA — Some South Sudanese women gathered at the South Sudan Council of Churches compound in Juba Thursday to pray for peace, one day ahead of a meeting between President Salva Kiir and his longtime rival, First Vice President Riek Machar.

The meeting was arranged after Kiir last week fired Defense Minister Angelina Teny, who is also Machar’s wife, and Interior Minister Mahmoud Solomon before dismissing the Foreign Minister Mayiik Ayii Wednesday. Kiir gave his own party the defense ministry in exchange for the interior, against the terms of the 2018 peace agreement.

Paska Achia, a member of the group calling itself the South Sudan Women’s Prayer Link, told VOA's South Sudan in Focus that women are very concerned about the country’s future.

"We have come here to pray because we know that our country is in a situation which will not allow women to just sit silently in the house and watch what is going on, as we all know the two, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar will hold a meeting tomorrow," Achia said.

Elizabeth Aya, who also attended the prayer service, urged Kiir and Machar to not allow the country to slide back into war.

"We are praying to our leaders to be leaders who have justice, leaders who are transparent, leaders who know the innocents and leaders who will support us when they are in problems. We were taken by surprise when we heard in the news about the changes in the government," Aya told VOA.

Some civil society activists and women church leaders in South Sudan said they are worried the two leaders have forgotten the words of Pope Francis who visited the country in February.

Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Right Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator general of the Church of Scotland, held meetings with political leaders, women, representatives of internally displaced South Sudanese and asked them to work for peace.

Lilly Richard Kenyi, chairperson of the women’s league of the South Sudan Council of Churches, said the pilgrimage of the three religious leaders will be remembered as a blessing and their impact will be seen over time.

"For every bad situation, a better thing will always come slowly. Just like sickness. It comes quickly but after taking medicine consecutively, healing comes. It takes time. The same way, reconciliation will come slowly. Soon we shall hear good things in our country," Kenyi told VOA.

South Sudan Cabinet Affairs Minister Martin Elia Lomuro said the government appreciates the pope’s message but said that the pontiff did not play a role in signing the 2018 peace deal that ended years of war between Kiir and Machar's forces.

"Pope Francis was not a mediator in the peace agreement. He just came for the love of the people of South Sudan. He knows the potential of this country, he knows that the people of South Sudan have suffered enormously and that they don’t deserve any more suffering so he came to support us like any other leaders of the region," Lomuro said.

He told VOA that Kiir’s firings of the two ministers are administrative issues that require "administrative solutions."

Some of the information in this report came from Reuters.