South Sudan's vice president visits refugees in Hurst - Fort Worth Star Telegram

HURST -- The vice president of South Sudan on Saturday urged refugees in North Texas to return home to help rebuild their strife-torn, but newly independent country.

Vice President Riek Machar also thanked the United States for helping bring South Sudan and Sudan to the negotiating table after years of clashes."The American people supported our struggle," Machar said. "Without the United States, we might not be here today."Machar, along with a handful of other South Sudanese leaders, spoke to more than 300 refugees Saturday afternoon at Peace Lutheran Church in Hurst. The impromptu visit came just days after Machar addressed the United Nations and decided to stay in the country to meet with refugees.Attendees sang the South Sudan national anthem and occasionally broke into jubilant cheers and chants. Then they presented the vice president something iconically Texan as a memento: a cowboy hat.South Sudan became an independent country in January 2011 after voters in the predominantly black, Christian region overwhelmingly supported breaking away from the mostly Arab Muslim north. The historic Southern Sudan Referendum followed two civil wars that left millions dead and forced millions more to seek safety in refugee camps elsewhere in the region or abroad.Their exile spanned generations and includes a wave of young male refugees known as the "The Lost Boys." Thousands of them have come to the U.S.Further work and negotiations remain, Machar told the crowd, but the nascent country is making progress. "We need to continue the dialogue and negotiations on borders," Machar said. "A process is laid out for negotiations to continue peacefully."In 1994, Nyayat Keat fled the African country at age 14, and she now lives in Fort Worth. When she learned the vice president would be coming to Hurst, she nearly cried with excitement."I love my country. I am so proud," Keat said. "One day I will tell my children about meeting the vice president."The Hurst church, which has a Sudanese congregation, offered to host Machar's visit. Wichieng Wetnyangran, pastor of the Sudanese congregants, said the newly independent nation needs people to help it build a strong infrastructure, schools and government."This was a wonderful opportunity for our local Sudanese community," Wetnyangran said. "We feel very fortunate."Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056Twitter: @sarahbfw

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