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Pope Francis kisses feet of leaders for peace

Pope Francis kisses feet of leaders for peace

Kiir and Machar were once rivals, with Kiir accusing Machar - his former deputy - of staging a 2013 coup.

Pope Francis is now trying with a very unusual gesture, to bring peace to the torn predominantly Christian country: When a visit of the two leaders of the parties to the conflict in the Vatican, he went in front of the two leaders in the knee, kissed you on the feet - and lost even his cap, called a Zucchetto. It remains to be seen whether his ouster will imperil the peace deal. Two years later, South Sudan plunged into its own intermittent civil war, with some 400,000 people killed and almost a third of the population uprooted.

"To you three, who have signed a peace agreement", the Pope said, "I ask you as a brother, remain in peace".

He said a six-month extension of the deadline was needed in order to unify defense forces and deploy them, demilitarize the capital Juba and other population centers, agree on the devolution of power and the release of political prisoners.

"Stay in peace." The dramatic gesture happened during a spiritual retreat by the two men at the Vatican and came only hours after the military in neighboring Sudan ousted its longtime leader, President Omar al-Bashir, after 30 years of authoritarian rule.

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". "So it is unlikely that we will form the government by the twelfth of May", he said.

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Diplomats and experts agreed that it would be hard to meet the deadline.

"Sudan has helped us with the peace deal".

"I don't think it's cynical, it's practical".

In his 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. Members of the South Sudan Council of Churches, which has been working to end the civil war, also participated.

"It was a unique occasion and it was concluded by Pope Francis with a challenge. We must deliver", Machar said.