South Sudan: Episcopal Bishop of Aweil Calls for an End to Mile 14 'Bickering'

Juba — The Episcopal Bishop of Aweil diocese has called on the citizens of South Sudan's Northern Bahr el Ghazal and political leaders to unite for common purpose and stop "bickering" over the inclusion of Mile 14 in a buffer zone between South Sudan and neighbouring Sudan agreed in September.

Abraham Yel Nhial, made the appeal weeks after "a group of business people" from the state came out to denounce remarks made by state governor Paul Malong Awan about 14 miles and demanded that he either "retract" his statement or submit his resignation.

Governor Awan, who served as the commander in the area for the former rebels that have governed South Sudan since a 2005 peace deal with Khartoum, has said he will fight anyone trying to take the area away from his state and has demanded to now how the 14 mile area became included in the buffer zone.

Under the security arrangements signed on 27 September by President Salva Kiir and his Sudanese counterpart Omer Ahmed Hassan El Bashir, both sides have to withdraw their armed forces 10km either side of a notional AU-proposed border line

The South Sudanese negotiators of the deal have stressed that the buffer zone is a temporary measure and that the borderline it is based on is non-binding and will in no way prejudge the final demarcation of the border and resolution of the many disputed areas.

The United Nations Security Council and African Union have both stated that the demilitarised buffer zone, will have no prejudicial impact on either side, as Juba and Khartoum attempt to resolve the many issues resulting from South Sudan's independence last year. Such assurances, however, did not prevent protests in the South Sudanese capital against the deal and a series of heated public meetings on the issue.

The youthful America-educated religious leader urged native inhabitants of his home state to maintain peace, unity and respect in order to maintain a peaceful community. He advised advising equally against the use of "divisive politics" hate speeches and unnecessary bickering that give wrong signals to incite violence among electorates and leaders.

However, the group of businessman who have criticised the Governor's questioning of how the 14 miles became part of the safe demilitarize buffer zone, continued their calls for Awan to resign over his treatment of the issue.

"I have always said that it is Governor Paul Malong who vomited out this venom. It was him who came from Addis Ababa and went straight to the press instead of calling a meeting with community leaders to brief them or wait for negotiators to come and tell us what they have discussed and agreed", Lual Bol Kuan, a native of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state who identifies himself as spokesperson of the group said on Friday.

Kuan, who repeatedly called on Awan to resign during an interview with Sudan Tribune, said the the Governor "cannot have it both ways" by opposing the policies of the ruling SPLM, while remaining part of the government.

"It does not work like that. We are a nation. We are no longer a rebel movement where we had some people acting as independent area commanders. I know some of governors still behave like when they were acting like judges, commissioners, community leaders and at the same time as army commanders. No. We are now [an] independent country with governing institutions implementing policies of the government", Kuan said.

But Bishop Nhial said it was not time for criticism, asserting that "it is high time" for people to come together people regardless of differences, asserting that the land belongs to the entire group.

In a statement on Thursday Nhial said: "For those who are not standing with people of Aweil, my prayer is that they would soon realise that the land is for us all and very important more than our jobs or positions or gifts. Those things are temporary. But our land remains so dear to us always for generations. It never gets useless but remain valuable forever. I know there is much to divide today: politics, money, positions, pride, self-interesting, misunderstanding, personal problems, and many others. I write to encourage you not to trade your land with anything else or betray your own people with temporary material things. These things will get finished and land will still be there".

He described being citizens of Aweil as "a gift" from God and that he hopes people should distinguish us as people who love our land more anything to give it away for things which do not last. I hope the good Lord will indeed bless all our combined efforts and please continue praying for our governor, his government and all 14 miles area supporters for protection".

Deng Thiep Akok, former Aweil North County Commissioner commended Bishop Nhial for his appeal, adding that the people of Aweil will continue to count on the active engagement of its leaders "on key issues" as they strive to meet the hopes and expectations of people.

"I know many people don't know that politics is the game full of challenges. Leaders are often faced with many challenges. The issue of 14 miles area now is one such example of challenges which leaders are expected to deal with. They listen carefully to people when issues with alarming concerns arise to take decision based on popular demand. The government of Northern Bahr el Ghazal State under the leadership of Paul Malong Awan should not be left alone regardless of differences", Akok appealed in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Friday.

James Alic Garang, a native of Northern Bahr el Ghazal studying in United States of America, approved the Bishop's, adding "few within our community, who for one reason or another, chose to stand aloof over this issue of the land. These people are a minority and should not hold the whole community hostage especially when we have the legitimate concerns".

Reverend Moses Deng equally appreciated Bishop Nhial for making his call for unity and urged him to go the extra mile to consolidate widening political differences created in the state by the 2010 April elections.

"Our people of Aweil are completely different from other communities. It is actually an honour and privilege to have been born a member of Aweil community. I like one thing with our people. We are peaceful. We do not fight among ourselves. We address our issues in a way that does not translate to violence even if you see us quarreling," Reverend Deng who is currently visiting Juba from the Northern Bahr el Ghazal, told Sudan Tribune at the South Sudan Hotel in Juba on Friday.

He explained that the Bible rejects hate speech and instead advocates for peace and unity among people, in order to address issues of concern as children of God without giving them a hard time.

"We are admonished by the Colossians 4:6. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt that you may know how you ought to answer each one", he explained. He said he was very concerned about the lives of the people, especially those he said would be uprooted from their ancestral areas when South Sudan's army (SPLA) withdraws from the 14 mile area.

South Sudan' Deputy Interior Minister, Salva Mathok Gengdit, told Sudan Tribune on Monday that South Sudan's police force is ready to be deployed to the border areas where their presence is required to protect civilians.

This week the Defence Ministers of both countries concluded a meeting in Juba to discuss the implementation of the security deal, without revealing when the demilitarisation of the border zone would begin.

Reports have emerged from Juba throughout the week, that South Sudan refused a demand formulated by the Sudanese side asking to deploy joint patrols along the common border in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states where the Sudanese army fight the SPLM-North rebels. Talks are due to continue in Khartoum but a date has not been set.

Reverend Moses Deng called more cooperation from both church and the government at different levels in South Sudan, adding that he believed there was no way democracy could strive without religious leaders being involved in the affairs of the state.

"We recognise the attempt of government in consulting bishops in the country but I wish to state clearly that they are not the ecclesiastical body in South Sudan. We have ecclesiastical body such as the council of churches which brings together different denominations", reverend Deng explained.

According to him, the effort of Council of Churches to share the concerns with the government in the interest of democracy and the nation were hampered by bureaucracy. "We pray the government makes it flexible for us to have access to its machinery for this cooperation that we seek", he said.

He noted that government had a responsibility towards the people to equip the citizenry by identifying and shaping their skills for productive purposes granting them the opportunity to work.

He further indicated that good leadership is portrayed by the success of the people and not necessarily the policies, asserting that policies must be translated into the success in the lives of the people and this must be evident collectively in people's living at the end of the year, fulfilling the government's short and long term plans. "It is with the citizenry that we build a nation".

He cautioned political leaders to respect the purpose of their call and avoid practices that would undermine the integrity of their offices. He tasked them to work diligently and remain focused in order not to be influenced by the world, especially the love of material resources and craving for positions and power.

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