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Peace is possible pope tells South Sudan - English

Peace is possible pope tells South Sudan - English

Peace is possible, Pope Francis told South Sudan leaders in the Vatican on Thursday. South Sudan plunged into civil war two years later after Kiir, a Dinka, fired Machar, from the Nuer ethnic group, from the vice presidency.

He also appealed to President Salva Kiir, his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar, and three other vice presidents to respect a peace agreement they signed and commit to forming a unity government in May. The pope read remarks in which he said that while God's gaze was on them, "there is another gaze directed to you: is the gaze of your people, and it expresses their ardent desire for justice, reconciliation and peace". There will be many problems, but don't be afraid, go forward, resolve the problems.

Pope Francis on Thursday got on his hands and knees before the leaders of South Sudan's government and its opposition, kissing their shoes and imploring the two men to maintain the tenuous peace that exists between them.

He spoke exclusively to Reuters in Rome after attending a two-day retreat hosted by the pope with South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir.

"There will be struggles, disagreements among you but keep them within you, inside the office, so to speak", Francis said in Italian as an aide translated into English.

"So we need to establish adequate security from the two forces so that our people can have confidence that this agreement will hold". The women are gathered at the South Sudan Council of Churches headquarters as part of a monthly pattern of prayer and fasting for peace organised by the ecumenical group's women's desk.

More than a third have been uprooted from their homes and around 400,000 have died in the civil war, which plunged parts of the country into starvation and has been characterised by such extreme sexual violence and widespread ethnic cleansing that the United Nations warned in 2017 of a possible genocide.

The arch-rivals last saw each other in October a year ago, shortly after the signing of a power-sharing deal, when Machar made a brief return to Juba for the first time since fleeing on foot in a hail of gunfire in July 2016.

The pope said, "People are wearied, exhausted by past conflicts: remember that with war, all is lost!"

"I had never seen anything like that".

The retreat is the brainchild of Justin Welby, head of the Anglican communion, the Vatican Secretariat of State Pietro Parolin, and Rev John Chalmers, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, who were all present at the meeting.

"It was a unique occasion and it was concluded by Pope Francis with a challenge".