JUBA, South Sudan (CNS) — The Catholic bishops of eastern Africa called upon warring factions in South Sudan to soften their positions “in the interest of saving lives” to achieve peace and to open safe corridors to allow humanitarian aid to flow to hundreds of thousands of people displaced since fighting erupted Dec. 15.

The Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa said in a statement delivered to the bishops of South Sudan meeting in Juba Jan. 24 that all hostilities must end. The association also urged the parties negotiating in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to welcome wider array of South Sudanese representatives so that all underlying issues that led to the conflict to erupt to be aired.

The South Sudanese government and rebels signed a cease-fire agreement Jan. 23. It took effect Jan. 24.

Fighting broke out when rebels allied with ousted vice president Riek Machar attacked several government sites. President Salva Kiir removed Machar and dismissed all cabinet ministers from office in July.

Hostilities expanded throughout the country for five weeks, leaving as many as 10,000 people dead, and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported 468,000 people were displaced as of Jan. 16.

In their statement, the AMECEA bishops from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia expressed solidarity with their brother bishops in South Sudan, saying that “we feel with them and join them in their sorrow.”

The bishops called for ongoing talks to settle differences across political and ethnic lines.

“As church leaders, we believe that true peace can only be made possible through dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation. At the same time, we are aware that these three do not eliminate the need for justice and as well they do not block the path to truth. Hence we encourage that the solution to the crisis should also lead to a roadmap that will bring about truth and justice and healing in South Sudan,” the statement said.

The bishops also called for the world to continue providing aid for people affected by the violence and for prayers for peace.