South Sudan peace declaration signed in Rome

south sudan peace meeting Barnaba Marial Benjamin of South Sudan, Paolo Impagliazzo of Sant'Egidio, and Pa’gan Amum Okiech, Interim Chairman of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. | Courtney Mares

The Republic of South Sudan and the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) have signed a peace declaration in Rome Sunday that will go into effect Jan. 15.

"I think this process will help the country to change to bring peace for the people," Paolo Impagliazzo, Secretary General of the Community of Sant'Egidio, told CNA Jan. 13.

In peace talks in Rome facilitated by the Catholic community of Sant'Egidio, opposition groups and the South Sudanese government recommitted to cease hostilities, pursue political dialogue, and allow humanitarian aid for the people of South Sudan.

Signers of the "Rome Declaration on the Peace Process in South Sudan" notably included representatives of the opposition groups in SSOMA, who refused to sign an earlier peace agreement in Sept. 12, 2018 in Khartoum, and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and National Democratic Movement (NDM) as witnesses.

Dr. Sunday De John, communications director for the opposition alliance, told CNA that he hopes this will pave the way for a long-awaited visit by Pope Francis to South Sudan.

"We have accepted the cessation of hostilities, and therefore there will be no confrontation between the forces of the opposition and that of the government. It means there will be relative security, and would allow the mobility of South Sudanese locally and international visitors, like His Holiness the pope as early as February," De John said Jan. 13.

"South Sudan is a country that is made up of Christians, notably of the Catholic faith. We believe in His Holiness the pope, and should he come to South Sudan -- even if the opposition is unable to be there for security reasons -- we will be happy because our country is our symbol," he said.

Paolo Impagliazzo, Secretary General of the Community of Sant'Egidio, facilitated the peace declaration. He said that faith played an important role in the South Sudan peace talks hosted in Rome Jan. 11-12.

"All of them are Christians, so for them to start a meeting with a prayer was very important. They attended Holy Mass on  Saturday evening with Sant'Egidio ... The fact that Pope Francis is so engaged in their country for them is something that they cannot forget," Impagliazzo told CNA.

"We kept the two delegations separated in different hotels, different rooms for coffee breaks, and a plenary room where they entered together, shaking hands and sitting on the two sides of the table," he said.

The Community of Sant'Egidio is a lay Catholic movement centered on peace and helping the poor. The community has previously worked with the peace process in Mozambique and the Ivory Coast.

In the declaration, the government and the opposition recommitment to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement of Dec. 2017 to cease armed confrontation in South Sudan, and to allow humanitarian access to local and international organizations.

IGAD, the UN's Intergovernmental Authority on Development, participated as an observer.

"Rome was not built in one day, so with our peace, we are building it," Barnaba Maria Benjamin, head of the South Sudan government envoy, said in a press conference Jan. 13.

Benjamin said it is important that Sant'Egidio will be monitoring whether the agreement is implemented. He underlined that the government of South Sudan is committed to "inclusivity," calling it the "cornerstone of the future of the Republic of South Sudan."

"The cessation of hostilities is important because it allows our people …  to have humanitarian assistance reach all rural parts of South Sudan and it allows us to build forgiveness, reconciliation and harmony," Benjamin said.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in South Sudan's civil war, which began shortly after South Sudan became an independent country in 2011. The fighting primarily took place between those forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebel groups led by Riek Machar, the former vice president.

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The signers of the declaration wrote that they were "humbled by the relentless spiritual and moral appeal for peace, reconciliation and fraternity by Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Former Moderator of Presbyterian Church of Scotland, as well as those of the South Sudanese religious leaders for reconciliation, peace and fraternity."

The two groups also reaffirmed their will to foster political dialogue under the auspices of the Catholic community Sant'Egidio in order to facilitate further reconciliation and stabilization.

The Vatican hosted South Sudan's political leaders for a peacebuilding retreat in April 2019, at which Pope Francis knelt to kiss the feet of the president of South Sudan and the leader of the opposition movement.

"We came together here in appreciation to the tireless effort of His Holiness Pope Francis when he called the leadership of our country and begged them for peace," Pa'gan Amum Okiech, member of the leadership council of SSOMA and Interim Chairman of Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

Pope Francis, who does not have any international trips scheduled for 2020, has repeatedly expressed his hope that he will be able to visit South Sudan, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, in the coming year.

The pope sent a Christmas message together with Archbishop Welby and Rev. John Chalmers, the former moderator of the Scottish Presbyterian Church to the people of South Sudan expressing best wishes for a swift implementation of the peace agreements.

"May the Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, enlighten you and guide your steps in the way of goodness and truth, and bring to fulfilment our desire to visit your beloved country," the message states.

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