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Murder of Catholic Nuns, Others “lies squarely on Holdout Groups”: South Sudan's President

Pope Francis greets South Sudanese president Salva Kiir at the Vatican, 11 April 2019./ Vatican Media.

The killing of two Catholic Nuns alongside three other civilians following the Monday, August 16 bus ambush along Juba-Nimule Road is the responsibility of “the Holdout Groups”, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, has said, making reference to the non-signatories to the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS).

In a statement issued Tuesday, August 17, President Kiir says the murder of the five “innocent civilians” demonstrates the lack of commitment to peace on the part of non-signatories to the September 2018 Peace Agreement and threatens that his government may have to “reconsider its position on the ongoing Sant'Egidio led Rome Initiative.”

“The fact that Sisters Mary Abud and Regina Roba were coming from the celebration of an important milestone of Christianity in our country: the centenary celebration of the (Assumption of Our Lady) Loa Parish did matter to these criminals,” President Kiir says in his statement.

The South Sudanese President adds, in reference to the five South Sudanese killed during the August 16 road ambush, “The responsibility for their death lies squarely on the Holdout Groups, and the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity condemns this act of terror with the strongest terms possible.”

Sr. Mary Daniel, the immediate former Superior General of the Sacred Heart Sisters (SHS) of Juba Archdiocese who was serving as the Head Teacher of Usratuna Primary School in Juba, and Sr. Regina, a Tutor and Administrator at the Catholic Health Training Institute (CHTI) in South Sudan’s Wau Diocese, were among five people who died August 16 following the bus ambush along the highway that links South Sudan and Uganda.

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In a statement dated Tuesday, August 17, SHS Superior General highlights recalls the events of Monday, August 16 leading to what she describes as “the cruel deaths” of two members of the Catholic Institute.

“The two Sisters were part of the 12 passengers (7 Sisters and 5 men) on a Costa bus returning to Juba from the Centenary Celebration of Loa Catholic Parish dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption,” Sr. Alice Jurugo Drajea says.

The Costa bus that had left Loa Parish around 7.30 a.m. on the fateful day had hardly traveled for about an hour when it “ran into an ambush of armed men who opened gunfire,” Sr. Drajea had recounted.

Suspecting that the male passengers would be the first targets of the gunmen, Sr. Drajea says, the driver of the bus ordered them to alight from the bus and to flee.

Four Sisters also attempted to flee while three elderly Sisters remained on the bus, the SHS Superior narrates, and adds, “The gunmen intended to burn the (three Sisters) in the bus as they did a small car in front of the bus. Thank God, they (had) neither a lighter nor petrol to start off the fire.”

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While the male passengers fled into the bush alongside four Sisters, Sr. Drajea narrates, “the armed men followed and shot two of the Sisters, namely, Sr. Mary Daniel Abut and Sr. Regina Roba.”

Two male persons who included the driver were among the dead, Eye Radio reported, adding that “a boda-boda rider also died after he was knocked down by a speeding truck - fleeing from the attack.”

In his August 17 statement, President Kiir highlights previous engagement with non-signatories R-ARCSS in view of protecting the lives of civilians in the ten-year-old East/Central African nation.

“The Government signed the Rome Declaration, the Recommitment to Cessation of Hostilities and the Declaration of Principles with the Holdout Groups with the goal of stopping fighting and saving innocent lives,” the South Sudanese President says.

“Now that the non-signatories to the Revitalized Peace Agreement continue to violate these commitments, the Government may reconsider its position on the ongoing Sant'Egidio led Rome Initiative,” President Kiir says, and cautions, “Our pursuit of an inclusive peace should never be taken for a weakness and used as a window to kill the innocent.”

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Last month, the leadership of Sant’Egidio, the Rome-based lay Catholic association, hosted a four-day meeting that brought together South Sudan’s Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU), the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance-South Sudan United Front/Army (SSOMA SSUF/A) and the SSOMA-Real Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SSOMA Real SPLM).

At the end of the July 15-18 meeting that was held in the presence of observers from the international community, South Sudan’s warrying parties signed two documents, including the one in which they expressed their commitment to attending other meetings to be held in Rome in three successive months from September this year.

The meetings, the community of Sant’Egidio noted, are expected to lead, in the hope of the mediators and international observers, to a final peace agreement between the parties in South Sudan conflict.

Officials of the lay Catholic community further noted that during the four days, the parties signed a roadmap for including the Real SPLM and SSUF/A in the Ceasefire & Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring & Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM).

In the meeting that was attended by representatives of the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Switzerland and Japan, as well as representatives of the European Union, the parties in conflict also signed a roadmap for political dialogue on the causes of the protracted civil strife in the East/Central African nation, and expressed their commitment to signing a comprehensive agreement.

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Others at the meeting were representatives from IGAD, United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), RJMEC, and CTSAMVM.

The Rome-based Catholic community has previously hosted a series of other peace talks aimed at working towards all-inclusive peace in South Sudan, including meetings in partnership with South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) both in Juba and in Rome aimed at facilitating reconciliation and peace in the world’s youngest nation.

In his two-page August 17 “Statement on Killing of Innocent Civilians on Juba-Nimule Highway”, President Kiir expresses his condolences to Archbishop Stephen Ameyu, “the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of Juba, and the Congregation of Sacred Hearts, and the families of Sisters Mary Abud and Regina Roba who were callously murdered yesterday on the Juba-Nimule Highway.”

“My heart also goes out to other three innocent civilians who died on this cowardly attacked,” the South Sudanese President says.

“While we mourn the departed, let us equally pray that God gives us the strength we need to overcome this traumatic experience,” President Kiir says, and further implores, “Let us also pray for the Church leadership to remain strong despite the shocking experience of this tragedy.”

Meanwhile, Pope Francis has offered his “heartfelt condolences” to the families and to the members of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Juba Archdiocese.

In a telegraph sent through Vatican’s Secretary of State, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the Holy Father expresses his deep sadness following what he calls the “brutal attack” and the “senseless act of violence,” Vatican News reported August 17.

The Pope expressed the hope that the sacrifice of the two Catholic Sisters “will advance the cause of peace, reconciliation and security in the region” and implored God for “their eternal rest and the comfort of those who grieve their loss.”

In the two Sisters, SHS Superior General says in her August 17 statement, “the Congregation has lost great resource persons with excelling leadership qualities.”

“May their innocent blood unite us in our Congregation more and bring peace to this Country of South Sudan, which has never known true peace,” She says in reference to Sr. Mary Daniel and Sr. Regina, natives of South Sudan’s Wau Diocese and Yei Diocese respectively.

This story was updated on 19 August 2021 at 12.15 East African Time.