JUBA, March 3 (Xinhua) -- More than three years of civil war in South Sudan has killed tens of thousands, divided communities along ethnic lines and displaced some 1.5 million into neighboring countries with another 100,000 people facing famine.
Now the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is try to use football to combat ethnic divisions, violence and hatred among South Sudanese youth who are often used by the country's warring parties to forefront violent conflicts in the East African nation.
Thomas Lemi, 24, a third year University student is just one of the several hundred students taking part in the two-day inter-university sport for peace event that brought youth from three high institutions of learning to interact among each and share messages of peace.
With a smile on his face, Lemi told Xinhua that the football tournament would be a uniting factor for him because the team is playing for comprises of youth drawn from different ethnic groups across South Sudan.
"Today our identity is sport because our team is not comprised of only one tribe but different tribes from South Sudan are included in this team. This means that South Sudan love football and football is peace," Lemi said.
The aspiring economist pledges to use the experience from the football tournament to preach peace and forgiveness in his community, calling on young people to embrace sport as means of building peace in the world's youngest country.
"After the end of the tournament, it is a great role for me to go and enlighten our brothers and sisters that football is the only tool and element to unite all of us as South Sudanese. So we need to come together through sports because football is peace, and peace is love," he said.
David Shearer, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in South Sudan said the UN Mission has understood the vital sport plays in restoring peace among conflicting communities, as such, it has embarked on promoting football throughout the conflict-hit country.
"The question is why is the UN getting involved in repairing football fields and also contribute to the University and promote football games? The reason simply is because we believe this is a way of bringing people together to encourage peace which is the most important thing," Shearer said at the opening of the tournament.
"Everybody is here according to their ability to be able to contribute their intelligence and advocate for ideas," he added.
Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Yien Oral Lam underscored that his ministry seeks to support sports in South Sudan as an alternative to build peace.
"South Sudan needs peace that will come from South Sudanese, peace that is not imposed by others. This is the peace that will take us somewhere," Lam said.
He called on youth to desist from violent activities and instead support peace initiatives in the country.
"This is the time now; we need to ask ourselves whether we are moving forward or not? Therefore it is our role as South Sudanese to be engaged in the peace making process," Lam added.