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Holy Father to visit war hit South Sudan in October

The pope has said several times that he wants to go to the country to preach peace but so far no time frame has been given.

Pope Francis (centre) poses with Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and his wife Jeannette Kagame ahead of a meeting at the Vatican March 20, 2017

“We have been informed (by a Vatican official) that he will come in October but we don’t know the exact date yet.

“It depends on the security situation between now and October.

“If it remains as it is now, he will come,” Bishop Erkolano Tombe of the city of Yei said.

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He said that October was toward the end of rainy season, which starts in April.

Oil-producing South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, descended into civil war in December 2013 when a dispute between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar ended with fighting, often along ethnic lines.

Human right groups said both sides have targeted civilians.

Kiir’s government and the UN have declared a famine in some part of the world’s youngest country, where nearly half of its population of 5.5 million face food shortages.

Tombe is in Rome for meetings of the Catholic charity group Caritas Internationalis.

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He said the situation was dire in his city of Yei which lies along Juba and near the borders with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Many people have died.

“They were shot while trying to harvest their crops, there are over 100,000 people trapped in Yei,” he said.

In February, the pope said he wanted the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the worldwide Anglican communion, to accompany him on the trip to the mostly Christian country in a sign of unity.

“I don’t want to lose hope but this hope has to be based on negotiations.

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“If these warmongers don’t come and sit together the war will continue,” Tombe said.

NAN recalls that Pope Francis appealed for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan where famine threatens the lives of millions of people already suffering due to a three-year civil war.

In the “martyred South Sudan,” he said, “a fratricidal conflict is compounded by a serious food crisis, which has struck the Horn of Africa and condemns millions of people to starve to death, among them many children,” the pope said.

At the end of his weekly general audience at the Vatican Feb. 22, the pope said that a solid commitment from the international community to assist South Sudan is crucial “now more than ever.”

The UN on Feb. 21 declared a famine in two counties of South Sudan, adding that the catastrophic food shortages will continue to spread, threatening millions of lives.

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Civil war has destabilised the world’s youngest country for more than three years due to a political power struggle between  Kiir and Machar.

“This famine is man-made,” said Joyce Luma, director of the UN World Food Program.

Pope Francis urged governments and international organizations to “not stop at just making statements,” but take concrete steps so that necessary food aid “can reach the suffering population.”

“May the Lord sustain these, our brothers and sisters, and those who work to help them,” Pope Francis said.

On top of the civil war, South Sudan has been hit by the same east African drought that has pushed Somalia to the brink of famine, six years after 260,000 people starved to death.

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A confidential UN report seen by Reuters mainly blames the government for the famine, yet it is boosting its forces by using millions of dollars from oil sales.

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