Juba - South Sudan's bishops have called on leaders to put the fate of the country before their pursuit of power, and sign a deal to end 19 months of civil war.
“The war must stop immediately,” the influential Council of Churches, a coalition including all the key Protestant and Roman Catholic bishops, said in statement, ahead of peace talks due to restart in Ethiopia on Thursday.
“There is no moral justification for this senseless war. It is unacceptable that people continue to kill and be killed while leaders argue over power, positions and percentages.”
South Sudan's civil war began in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.
“End the evil which has befallen our country,” the bishops said.
Regional mediators, backed by US President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Kenya and Ethiopia, have given Kiir and Machar until August 17 to halt the civil war.
Negotiations on a proposed agreement are due to begin in Addis Ababa on Thursday, alongside mediators from the regional IGAD bloc, although neither Kiir nor Machar are expected to attend until much later in the process.
“The agreement is a compromise, it is not perfect, it has its shortcomings, but disagreement with some aspects of it does not justify the continuation of the war,” the letter read, signed by leaders including Roman Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu and Episcopalian Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul.
The bishops, who play a powerful role in the country, called for a permanent ceasefire to allow discussion on the young country's future, to allow a consensus, “which meets the needs of the people, not just the political and military elites.”
During previous peace talks held in luxury Ethiopia hotels, Kiir, Machar and their entourages have run up millions of dollars in expenses while failing to sign a single lasting agreement.
At least seven ceasefires have been agreed and then broken within days, if not hours.