Celebrations could be heard in Yambio Town as people became aware of the good news that a peace agreement had been reached on Monday afternoon between a high-level delegation led by the Deputy Governor Victor Edward Danda in Yambio Town and the arrow boys still in their camp deep in the bush outside of town. “This is a great day for peace”, one shop owner said in the market.
Archbishop Charles Travis, the presiding bishop for the world wide Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (CEEC) with millions of adherents in over 50 countries was in Yambio Town during Easter to encourage his churches their as well as meet with government, civic and religious leaders in Yambio Town in an effort to encourage the ongoing peace process following months of violent conflict between The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the “Arrow Boys”. The Arrow Boys have said that they were forced to take up arms against splinter SPLA troops who had been looting, raping and killing people in their villages.
The spread of violent conflict to a peaceful Western Equatoria that had for the most part, escaped the years of war, underscores how easily tensions arising from power struggles in Juba and resource-sharing between ethnic groups can boil over in a country where the government is often accused of favouring the Dinka Tribe led by President Salva Kiir, the biggest of South Sudan’s 64 tribes.
In response to the rising violence in Western Equatoria, thousands of young Zande men mobilised into armed gangs across the state. Some said they were protecting their villages and demanded justice from the government. Dwindling faith in South Sudan’s national army guaranteed them support among fellow Zande. The Zande Tribe makes up the majority of the population in Western Equatoria with the Dinka in the minority.
Dinka boys living in Western Equatoria who had been fighting in the SPLA retained their weapons and uniforms. On occasion it has been reported that they will join in with other Dinka members of the SPLA in Western Equatoria who are attacking Zande villages.
Reports began circulating that several months ago in areas around Yambio Town, many houses were burned, women and children killed and girls were raped by violent gangs of SPLA troops made up of Dinka soldiers who had attacked their homes in recent months in and around Yambio.
The Arrow Boys, say that they have taken up arms in an effort to protect their homes and families from these rebellious SPLA troops. A spokesperson for the Arrow Boys verified that a peace agreement was forthcoming recent talks with the government. along with Canon Dr. Ron Clark, his apostolic representative are currently traveling in South Sudan. Archbishop Travis is the presiding bishop for the CEEC (Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches) with churches in over 50 countries and a membership estimated to be in the millions.
According to statements made by the archbishop at a press conference held at the Juba International Airport upon his arrival 10 days ago, the purpose of the Archbishops mission to South Sudan is to encourage the church and pray for peace. He led hundreds in worship and prayers during a special CEEC service at the Yambio CEEC church.
Canon Yepeta, the minister who oversees the church stated, “We are very happy that Archbishop Travis has come back to Yambio during this time. His presence here is enjoyed by everyone in the town. I and the church are very happy for this great occasion.
Traveling with the archbishop is Canon Dr. Ron Clark, who serves as his apostolic representative. The apostolic representative is often sent out by archbishop to personally represent him when he is unable to attend important meetings or encourage the church.
Canon Clark was sent to Yambio Town by the archbishop on a humanitarian mission when violence broke out in August 2015. Clark refused sanctuary in the UN Mission and chose rather to stay with the thousands of people outside the fence who were refused entry by UN officials. Clark did not flee with the other NGO and UN workers who were evacuated back to Juba.
The canon spent his time in Yambio visiting United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Yambio Town were tens of thousands went seeking safety but had been refused entrance by UNMISS officials during the outbreak of violence last August 2016.
Up to 5,000 people were also seeking safety at the compound of the Adventist Relief Agency (ADRA) in Yambio town looking for safety had gathered during the initial outbreak of violence in Yambio last August. Canon Clark presence with the IDP’s calmed the fears of many. He encouraged the people by praying with them and holding church services in the camps. It is reported that he met with the Arrow Boys as well and encouraged them not to fight with the government. Clark, a tall man with fair skin stood out in the crowds as the only white man left in Yambio.
A government spokesperson confirmed at the time that “Canon Clark offered to help in restoring calm to our people. His strong faith and calming presence in Yambio was appreciated at this critical time.” Another official who did not want to be identified said, “you know who your real friends are when they help you in times like these” in reference to Canon Clark and Canon Yepeta the local CEEC head minister along with the other CEEC ministers were seen in and around Yambio helping the people.
Neither the Archbishop or his apostolic representative could be reached for comment since it is reported that they are currently traveling in the country.
Canon Clark was called “The last white man standing in Yambio” in numerous news reports that followed the incidents of August 2015.