The country’s two most powerful leaders said they would not lead it back into war as they celebrated its 10th birthday, and Pope Francis said he would visit if they did more to maintain the fragile peace.
In late 2013, two years after it separated from Sudan, violence erupted in South Sudan when president Salva Kiir, a Dinka, sacked vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer.
Last year, they formed a national unity government after signing several deals to end a war that, fuelled by long-standing ethnic tensions, is believed to have killed more than 400,000 people.
“I promise you that I will not return you to war again,” Kiir said in an Independence Day speech. “Let us all work together to … put our country back on the path of development in this new decade.”
In May, President Kiir dissolved parliament, paving the way for an expanded and more inclusive legislature of 550 members.
Machar said Kiir and he were subject to high expectations while competing in a marathon in other parts of Juba.
“Our people expect a lot from us. The world also expects a lot from us. If we want to celebrate (independence) every time, we must keep the peace,” Machar said.
On Friday, Pope Francis told South Sudanese leaders they must do more to establish peace and promised to visit the country where, according to U.N. Violence is still raging in some areas, according to reports.
“Your people live in fear and uncertainty,” Francis, who is recovering from intestinal surgery, said in a joint message with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Moderator of the Church of Scotland Jim Wallace.
Peace may require personal sacrifice on your part, they said.
At a Vatican retreat in 2019, Kiir, Machar, and other politicians of predominantly Christian South Sudan kneeled at Francis’ feet as he urged them not to return to conflict.