At least 21 people were killed in an armed attack in South Sudan on Thursday, on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to the country torn by years of conflict, local authorities said.
The Pope, accompanied by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, and Iain Greenshields, the most important figure of the Church of Scotland, is expected on Friday in the world’s youngest state for a “peace pilgrimage”.
Religious leaders will seek to promote reconciliation and forgiveness in a predominantly Christian country that still faces chronic armed violence after a bloody civil war that left 380,000 dead and millions displaced between 2013 and 2018.
Gunmen herdsmen killed 21 civilians in an attack in southern Kajo-Keji district on Thursday, district officials said in a statement, condemning “the attack in the strongest terms (… and the slaughter of innocent civilians in a barbaric act of vengeance”).
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, said he was “appalled” by the attack. “It’s a story heard too often across South Sudan. I am again demanding a different path: that South Sudan come together for a just peace,” he wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
South Sudan gained independence in 2011 after decades of fighting with Muslim-majority Sudan. The country plunged into a devastating five-year civil war between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar in 2013. The armies of both sides are accused of war crimes.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the United States and other foreign missions this week raised concerns about a possible resurgence of fighting in the Upper Nile region.
In this northern region of the country, thousands of civilians have sought refuge in UN bases in recent months, fleeing armed violence.