South Sudan frets over whether Sudan coup will derail fragile peace

Pope Francis kneels to kiss the feet of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir at the Vatican on Thursday

The Pope caused a stir when he bent down to kiss the feet of the previously warring South Sudan leaders who were on a two-day spiritual retreat at the Vatican. "I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward", Francis said after performing the rare gesture.

Former South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar said on Friday he does not believe it will be possible for the country's divided leaders to meet a May 12 deadline to form a national unity government.

Thursday's military coup in Sudan sparked anxiety in neighboring South Sudan that the toppling of longtime President Omar al-Bashir could scupper a fragile peace deal that ended South Sudan's five-year civil war. He has entrusted much to us, and for this reason will require from us much more!

"There will be struggles, disagreements among you but keep them within you, inside the office, so to speak", Francis added during the meeting.

"Sudan labored so hard to restore peace and stability and because of that we have the current prevailing peace agreement in South Sudan and it is a guarantor", Martin Elia Lomoro, South Sudan's Cabinet affairs minister, said in a meeting with global cease-fire monitors.

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In his pre-prepared address earlier on Thursday, Francis said South Sudan's people were exhausted by war and the leaders had a duty to build their young nation in justice.

Pope Francis told the politicians and members of the Council of Churches that "peace" was the first word Jesus said to his disciples after the resurrection.

"Peace is the fundamental condition for ensuring the rights of each individual and the integral development of an entire people".

Sudan, which is predominantly Muslim, and the mainly Christian south fought for decades before South Sudan became independent in 2011.

Pope Francis encouraged the South Sudanese leaders to "seek what unites you, beginning with the fact that you belong to one and the same people, and to overcome all that divides you".

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