Thursday, December 19, 2013

Serious Clashes in Juba, South Sudan

Serious clashes in Juba,
South Sudan
From ANS and other sources

Serious clashes were reported on December 18 in South Sudan, the newest state in Africa, following its separation from Sudan in July 2011. According to U.N. estimates, there are between 400 and 500 dead and 800 injured in Juba, the capital.

The Salesians have a community and mission at Gumbo, across the Nile River from Juba. They heard gunfire all day. Many frightened families have taken refuge in the mission.

SLM Pat Sabol posted this photo of students and staff of the Salesians' school at Gumbo, a suburb of Juba, on Nov. 23.  As he says, he's "the white guy" at the right, and his site partner, Mike Gotta, is "the white guy" on the left.
Salesian Lay Missioner Pat Sabol wrote on the 18th: “We have around 50 or more people taking refuge in our parish church on the compound here in Gumbo. We also have the police protecting the church as well. Last night they were in the secondary school but we just recently moved them. Last night there was a lot of gunfire and mortars going off throughout the night but nothing so far tonight. But we are taking necessary precautions and are locking all the gates and doors and staying inside with the lights out after dark.”

SLM Mike Gotta added the same day, “We currently do have some refugees in Gumbo. Not a large number, but some have come from the Nuer tribe in hopes of some safety. The people of the Nuer tribe it seems are being targeted.”

On the 18th National Public Radio reported that the violence had a tribal basis, the majority Dinka people, to whom President Salva Kiir belongs, going after the minority Nuer, to which the recently fired vice president Riek Mashare belongs. The President alleged that the ex-vice president had attempted a coup.

On the 19th the situation in the country is quiet but unstable. In the past, the clashes were mainly in the territories of the north, on the border with Sudan. On the 18th the fighting took place mainly in Juba, which is in the southern part of the country.

The hostilities started on Monday the 16th with several clashes between opposing factions in various parts of the capital. It was not only light weapons. Witnesses report hearing mortars and bombs. As a result, the Salesian mission was closed for the entire day. There were also difficulties with regard to communications. National calls on cell phone were impossible, and in the evening a curfew was imposed.
Some Salesians who were planning to leave were forced to cancel their plans.
Although most of the fighting has been between military factions, fear is still widespread among the entire population. The night between Tuesday and Wednesday was quite turbulent for the Salesian community. Many families arrived in need of protection and assistance, and were offered accommodation in either the school or the chapel.
Meanwhile, the foreign volunteers who work at the Salesian mission were asked to leave and some of them have already done so.
As of 6:47 a.m. EST, December 19, both Pat Sabol and Mike Gotta are remaining at the mission, according to a message from Mike: “Unless the priests here feel like our security is at risk enough to advise us to leave or the [SLM] program feels like we should leave, Pat and I want to stay.”

Reporting on the situation:
Further NYT reports:

Update, Dec. 21:  Both of our SLMs are still there, the last volunteers on site.  Their compatriot Tom Kelly shipped out last week as scheduled upon completing 15 months of volunteer service and helping the 2 new boys settle in.  Pat and Mike are helping care for 50 to 100 refugees at the mission.  The Sudan SDB superior, Fr. Ferrington, just spent 3 days with us in New Rochelle (a coincidence in his travels) and is concerned about developments in Sudan, but not overly concerned as regards the safety of our confreres and their mission.

The 2 SLMs at Maridi, a good distance from Juba, report that things are fairly quiet there.

Updates, Dec. 23-24:  Mike Gotta and Pat Sabol blog what they've seen, heard, and been thinking at

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