Emmanuel Jal stands out front of the Ontario legislature with the flag of South Sudan draped around his neck as he calls for peace. The former child soldier has lost too many family members, he can’t even keep track anymore.
“It's affecting us — everybody here has lost someone in this conflict,” Jal said, looking around at dozens of South Sudanese people who came from as far as Windsor on Saturday for a peaceful demonstration at Queen’s Park.
Seeking an end to the nearly two-week crisis in which an estimated 1,000 people have been killed, leaders from across East Africa announced on Friday that South Sudan had agreed to a "cessation of hostilities" against forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, accused by the government of leading a coup attempt on Dec. 15 that erupted into spiralling violence.
- South Sudan violence continues as leaders seek peace talks
- South Sudan violence forces Canada to withdraw staff
Ethnic Nuers — the group Machar is from — say they are being targeted by Dinkas, the ethnic group of President Salva Kiir.
Jal, an international hip hop artists who now lives in Toronto , disputes Kiir’s claim that fellow party members attempted to oust him from power.
“Our president is saying there was a coup but actually it was a way to try and put off his colleagues in the party that want to transform the country into a democratic state,” Jal said. “It’s a political situation that’s turned tribal."
Approximately 300 people belong to the South Sudanese Community of Greater Toronto Area (SSCO-GTA), the group that organized the demonstration at Queen’s Park.
“The reason why I’m here is that I want to pass a message to the world and to the Canadian government to play a part in trying to get a peaceful solution,” Jal said.
The SSCO-GTA is asking for the Canadian government to not only push for an end to the fighting, but also for protection for civilians that are being displaced by the conflict.
'Those countries that have leverage, have a relationship with South Sudan, has to push anybody that wants to be the president of South Sudan to make sure that violence is not an option.' - Machar Buol, South Sudanese community leader in Toronto
In addition to those killed, tens of thousands have sought shelters at United Nations camps. Estimates are some 120,000 are currently displaced because of the fighting.
Paul Bany travelled from Windsor to be part of the demonstration and said three of his family members have been killed in recent weeks, including his uncle, who was a pastor.
His other relatives are staying in the UN compound in Juba, the country’s capital.
“They have nothing to eat there,” Bany said. “They cannot go out even during the day time. The situation is really very desperate for my people.”
Canada withdraws officials
The Canadian government said Friday it has temporarily withdrawn staff from South Sudan to work out of the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya.
Lynne Yelich, Canada’s junior minister of foreign affairs, said in a statement that staff would remain in Kenya “until appropriate measures are put in place to respond to the changing operational environment.”
Machar Buol, a community leader in Toronto's South Sudanese community, said Canada should make sure "their diplomatic efforts are mobilized, to push both sides to make sure they don't settle their differences through war."
Buol noted that Canada was among the countries at the table when a peace deal was reached in 2005, ending a decades-long civil war in Sudan. A 2011 referendum resulted in South Sudan splitting off into an independent country.
"Those countries that have leverage, have a relationship with South Sudan, have to push anybody that wants to be the president of South Sudan to make sure that violence is not an option," he said.