Members of the two biggest tribes from South Sudan got together in a Calgary church on the weekend — a peaceful meeting that would have been impossible in their homeland, a country riven by ethnic violence.
People from both the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups were there to hear Angelina Teny, a leader with the exiled opposition group Sudan People's Liberation Movement.
Teny stopped in Calgary — home to Canada's largest South Sudanese diaspora — as she travels around the world speaking out against South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.
Both Teny and her husband, former vice-president Riek Machar, are in exile from the country.
South Sudan, the world's youngest country, is in crisis. Since its independence in 2011, the country has been embroiled in ethnic warfare, mounting poverty and even starvation.
Teny says President Salva Kiir is responsible for the suffering.
"President Salva is a failed president that has actually shamed the whole country," Teny said to a congregation at the Calgary First Church of the Nazarene on Saturday, one of her stops on the weekend.
"[He] should be made accountable," she said, while urging the group not to blame all Dinka, the president's ethnic group, for the atrocities.
"We're lumping [Dinkas] together with the wrongdoing of the government, and that's not right. You must reach out ... you must welcome them, so that we fight together to change the regime that has disgraced all of us."
The UN recently declared a famine in the country and says the current spate of ethnic violence could spiral into genocide.
Human Rights Watch has reported that both sides — the government and opposition rebel forces — have committed atrocities against civilians.
Teny is a member of the Nuer tribe — people who were targeted in a door-to-door massacre in 2013 that killed hundreds.
Further incidents were reported by the United Nations in the years since.
'Please get involved'
Widespread violence has targeted civilians from Dinka tribes as well, according to the United Nations.
Calgarian Gatluak Bichoik says he's grateful to hear Teny's message encouraging Canadian South Sudanese to put aside ethnic divisions.
"She talked about the unity of [the] South Sudanese diaspora," he said.
"If South Sudanese are united in [the] diaspora, South Sudanese back in South Sudan will be united there as well."
Others, including members of both Nuer and Dinka tribes, said they appreciated Teny's message of solidarity among groups.
15K-20K South Sudanese in Calgary
About 15,000 to 20,000 South Sudanese are believed to live in Calgary. There are about 30,000 in all of Alberta, and roughly 50,000 in all of Canada, according to the South Sudanese Community in Calgary.
Teny said she hopes all of them will take action to promote peace in their home country.
"So we're urging them [to] please get involved," she said.
"Engage your Canadian government, your Canadian other institutions, to get engaged, to get involved, to see to it that there is an intervention, an effective humanitarian intervention, and that this genocide has stopped."
Ultimately, Teny says she wants to see regime change in the country.
Teny will be in Alberta until Wednesday. She met with community members in Ontario last week.
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