Bishops want ‘unknown’ Nimule road attackers prosecuted

Bishops want ‘unknown’ Nimule road attackers prosecuted
A view of St. Joseph Parish Catholic Archdiocese of Juba (photo credit: No1. Citizen)

The South Sudan Catholic Bishops Conference has rejected the use of the August 16 Juba-Nimule attack on the nuns to derail the inclusive peace process in the county.

In a statement released yesterday, the clerics also called for the identification and prosecution of suspects rather than referring to them as ‘unknown gunmen’.

“We reject attempts to use the tragedy to derail the peace process,” partly read the South Sudan Catholic Bishops conference statement.

It added, “While we call for forgiveness and reconciliation, we also demand that the killers be identified and held to account.”

“We reject the language of unknown gunmen, the local community usually knows who the killers are, but they are allowed to escape with impunity,” part of the statement added.

The attacks

On August 16, two Sacred Heart Sisters, Mary Daniel Abbud and Regina Roba were killed along Juba and Nimule road. Among the casualties were three other travelers who were killed.

The two nuns were part of the congregation that was returning from a pilgrimage in Loa Parish of Catholic Diocese of Torit in Eastern Equatoria State. 

The incident was one of the systematic series of armed attacks on clergies in South Sudan. In 2016, a nun identified as Sister Dr. Veronica was killed in Yei by a suspected SSPDF soldier.

In November 2020, the Regional Facilitator of the South Sudan Council of Churches in Malakal, Juliano Ambrose Otwali, was also killed as well as a Jesuit Fr. Victor Odhiambo in Rumbek.

In May 2021, a Catholic Bishop-designate Christian Carlassare of Rumbek Diocese survived an assassination attempt by armed men while an Anglican cleric was killed in Lanya in 2020 by a suspected SSPDF army. 

However, the  August 16 Juba-Nimule highway tragedy was just a drop added to ambushes that have claimed more than 10 lives of passengers and drivers in 2021 alone.

“We remind the government of their duty to provide security to the population, but we also urge them not simply to create more violence using the security apparatus,” the bishops further stated.

Though security apparatus alleged to have arrested the perpetrators, their prosecution has never been made public, raising questions over the identity of the suspects.

On August 30, President Salva Kiir blamed the attacks on the holdout group of South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) and suspended the Sant’Egidio led Rome negotiations indefinitely.

“We have decided to pause the ongoing Sant’Egidio led Rome Peace initiative. Our pursuit of an inclusive peace should never be taken for weakness and used as a window to kill the innocent.”

“Talks with SSOMA will only resume after they cease killing the innocent people and show their commitment to documents they have signed in Rome. It is only when they meet these conditions that genuine dialogue will resume,” Kiir stressed at the inauguration of the first season of the parliament on Monday.

Kiir added, “We have signed the Rome Declaration and Rome Resolutions with SSOMA, and the re-commitment to the Cessation of Hostility in December 2017 and Declaration of Principle. The goal of signing these documents was to stop fighting and save innocent lives. These were our commitments to inclusivity.”

Notwithstanding the government and SSOMA trading accusation over the matter, the Catholic Archbishop of Juba, Stephen Ameyu Martin, said the members of the community knew the perpetrators but authorities let them go free.

“I reject the jargon of the “unknown” because the people who killed the sisters are known by some of us in a remote distance,” Ameyu said at a requiem mass at St. Theresa Kator Cathedral on August 20.

“If we say they are unknown gunmen [then] we [are condoning the act of covering them],” Dr. Ameyu added.