Scores of female church workers were massacred last month as they sought refuge at a church in the central South Sudanese town of Bor.
The women, several of whom were elderly, had fled rebel attacks to
hide in the St Andrew's Episcopal Church compound, when rebels descended
on them, raping several of them before shooting them at close range.
"The women were from different parishes in the diocese and had
converged in the church compound when they were killed," the Anglican
Bishop of Bor, Ruben Akurdit Ngong, told World Watch Monitor by
telephone from Bor. "This is very painful. They destroyed most of the
churches in the diocese, but God is with us."
Five of the women – Dorcas Abuol Bouny and Akut Mayem Yar, both 72,
Tabitha Akuang, 60, and Mary Alek Akech and Martha Agok Mabior, both 70 –
worked as pastors in the church. A prominent lay leader, Agel Mabior,
72, was also killed.
"They were all clergy. They all worked at the church. They did
different jobs, [including] Bible reading," South Sudanese Anglican
Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul told local reporters.
South Sudan has been in turmoil since December 15, when a dispute
within the army sparked fierce fighting in the capital city, Juba.
Fighting spread quickly across the country and soon took on an ethnic
dimension after President Salva Kiir alleged that his former
vice-president, Riek Machar, was planning a coup.
The fighting has pitted army forces loyal to President Kiir, who is a
member of the Dinka tribe, against rebel forces aligned to Machar, a
member of the Nuer tribe.
The Dinka tribe is the largest in South Sudan; the Nuer is the second
largest and boasts a deadly tribal militia known as the 'White Army'
because its fighters rub white ash, extracted from burnt cow dung, over
The White Army's main role in the community historically has been to
raid cattle and protect the community, but recently it has transformed
into a militia used for political gain.
The White Army is suspected to have carried out the massacre of the
women and more than 2,500 others in Bor, a largely Dinka town.
"I believe the White Army attacked and killed the women hiding in the
church compound. It is very disturbing to know they were abused before
being killed," Reverend Mark Akec-Cien, deputy general secretary of the
South Sudan Council of Churches, told World Watch Monitor by telephone.
"I don't think they were killed because they are Christians. The
militia had also attacked, looted and destroyed shops, businesses, homes
and other churches."
Since the conflict erupted, several churches have been attacked and
looted, and pastors harassed, according to Akec-Cien. In Malakal, in the
north of the country, the St Francis Catholic Church compound was
attacked and looted in mid-January, and the priest robbed.
Anglican and Evangelical churches were also looted.
The most affected areas are the north-eastern states of Jonglei,
Unity and Upper Nile. Bor, the headquarters of Jonglei State, was
totally destroyed, with houses, food stores, shops, banks and churches
burnt down and looted, according to the Episcopal Church of Sudan.
The United Nations said on February 5 that up to 7 million people,
nearly two thirds of the country's population, were at risk of some
level of food insecurity, with 3.7 million facing emergency or acute
levels. About 900,000 people have fled their homes since December.
Although the conflict is largely viewed in ethic terms, church
leaders have called for peace and reconciliation, and stressed that the
roots of the crisis are political. Both the army and rebel forces have
been accused of abuses.