World News

Pope holds private meeting with president of warring South Sudan

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Pope Francis held a private meeting with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on Friday, pushing for peace in the world’s newest nation that has endured nearly two years of civil war, a Vatican spokesman said.

There were no details on the 15-minute conversation with the president, a Catholic who regularly attends the cathedral in his capital Juba and on occasions addresses the congregation.

Several other world leaders have urged Kiir to end the conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people, forced more than 2 million to flee and brought large parts of the population close to starvation.

But fighting has continued despite a series of failed peace talks and ceasefires.

“It was a private meeting,” the Vatican’s chief spokesman Father Federico said. “The reason for this meeting, the intention of the pope, was obviously in service of the peace and reconciliation in the land.”

The meeting at Uganda’s State House soon after Francis arrived in the Ugandan capital Kampala on the second leg of his week-long Africa trip was arranged by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, said Lombardi.

South Sudan, which gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, descended into civil war in December 2013 when a row between Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar descended into fighting that often ran along ethnic fault lines between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer people.

Francis will stay in Uganda until Sunday, when he is due to travel to the Central African Republic - a nation embroiled for nearly three years in an inter-religious conflict that has effectively split the former French colony in two.

Central Africans on both sides of the religious chasm have rallied behind the papal visit, reducing the risk that his presence could add fuel to the fire of communal tensions.

Editing by Andrew Heavens