By Isaack Omulo
ELDORET, Kenya (Reuters) – A South Sudanese refugee preparing to run at the Olympic Games next month has pleaded with the leaders of his war-torn nation to end the fighting and give the country’s young people a chance in life.
Yiech Pur Biel was one of those chosen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) along with nine others from around the world to represent the Refugees Olympic Team at the Rio Games starting on Aug. 5.
South Sudan’s president and vice president ordered their loyalists to cease hostilities on July 11 after days of fighting threatened to plunge the country back into civil war and bring further instability to an impoverished region of Africa.
Forces loyal to rivals President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar had fought street battles in the capital over five days in violence that killed at least 272 people.
“Let the leaders find a quick solution because young people are dying and fleeing to other nations, yet they can develop the nation,” Biel, 21, who will be running in the 800 meters events in Rio, told Reuters at the Kenyan team camp in Eldoret, northwest of the capital Nairobi.
The latest violence has raised fears of a collapse in the nearly year-old peace deal aimed at ending two years of civil war between Kiir and Machar’s supporters that killed tens of thousands, drove more than 2.5 million from their homes and left almost half the nation of 11 million short of food.
“Our participation in the Olympics should send a message to our leaders that we could be flying the South Sudanese flag instead of the IOC flag on the global stage,” Biel said.
“They should consider the future of the youth, who can use their talent to build the nation and showcase it abroad.”
Biel and four other South Sudanese refugees were picked by the IOC from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to fly the refugees’ flag to raise international awareness of the refugee crisis.
His teammates are Paulo Amotun Lokoro, James Nyak Chiengjiek, Anjelina Nada Lohalith and Rose Nathike Lokonyen, who will all appear in athletics events.
The other five from around the world are swimmers Rami Anis and Yusra Mardini from Syria, athlete Yonas Kinde from Ethiopia, and judokas Popole Misenga and Yolande Bukasa Mabika from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Hugh Lawson)