At least ten people, including five children, have been killed in an attack on a college in South Sudan teaching Theology, Education and Business, according to the Christian charity Open Doors International.
Three guards and five students – one secondary and four primary school pupils – were among the victims of the 14 May attack on the Emmanuel Christian College (ECC) in Goli, in Yei county. A displaced father and son, who had taken refuge there after fleeing Mundri, were also killed.
The attackers also raped the 14-year-old daughter of a staff member, Open Doors reported, and vandalised and looted college offices, single-staff houses, classrooms and the library.
Witnesses reportedly told Open Doors the attackers were from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the main force which formerly fought Africa’s longest-running civil war for independence from Sudan in the north.
After peace was agreed between north and south Sudan in January 2005, the SPLA’s political arm, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), in turn formed a government under President Salva Kiir, and his deputy, Riek Machar. However a political feud between the two men then degenerated into political and ethnic rivalries: Kiir is a Dinka and Machar is a Nuer.
It is not clear why government-backed forces might have attacked the college.
The ECC management, which stresses the inter-tribal, inter-ethnic nature of its college, has reported the incident to state authorities and is working with them on next steps, Open Doors said.
ECC is a training institution that was set up by Open Doors in partnership with the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church in 2001.
Since predominantly Christian South Sudan gained its independence from the Islamic Republic of Sudan in the north in 2011, Open Doors has been gradually withdrawing from the world’s newest country, and had handed over ownership of ECC to the local Church.
“We extend our condolences to all affected by the loss of life and our sincerest empathy to those affected by rape, witnessing of violence and looting,” Open Doors’ Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa, JP Pretorius, said. “We call on the international Christian community to rally in prayer around staff at the ECC and the Church in South Sudan. We also call on the international community to do whatever it can to help bring an end to the hostilities in South Sudan and on the South Sudan government to take swift action to bring the perpetrators to book.”
Since its independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan has been mired in conflict. More than 2 million people were displaced during two years of civil war, primarily between the Kiir and Machar factions, which officially ended in 2015.
Although the warring factions signed a peace deal, the fighting continued. In 2016 a UN commission on human rights warned of “ethnic cleansing” taking place in the country and in 2017 a famine was declared in parts of South Sudan.
Insecurity in the area had on several occasions interrupted activities at ECC, Open Doors said, and while most key staff members remained on the premises, theological and other training had been moved to Yei.