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Scores dead in a new bout of South Sudan tribal violence

March 12, 2012 |  9:29 am

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Scores of people were believed to have been killed in a new bout of ethnic violence in South Sudan, following similar incidents in recent months.

The death toll could climb, with bodies said to be strewn in about nine locations and dozens of people having fled into the bush to escape the attackers.

Attacks and counterattacks that involve members of the Murle and Nuer tribes have spiked in the last 12 months, though the bad blood goes back for generations and originated in the practice of cattle raiding.

Some 120,000 people have been displaced in the recent attacks in Jonglei state in December and January, according to humanitarian agencies.

The latest attack Friday involved Murle militias attacking Nuer villages in the remote Romyereh area in Upper Nile State, near Jonglei, according to the California-based humanitarian agency International Medical Corps, or IMC.

The reported death toll ranged from 100 to 200, although some local officials placed the number higher. There were also fears that children were abducted during the violence. 

Fighting continues in the area, according to the International Medical Corps, which sent a team to the scene. They saw bodies scattered around and ferried the casualties five hours by boat to Akobo County Hospital for treatment by an IMC medical team. The site of the attacks was not accessible by road.

According to a statement on the International Medical Corps website, 60 victims had arrived in the hospital, half of them with gunshot wounds. One died on the scene and several serious cases had to be evacuated.

During the rescue effort, fighting forced the IMC team to take shelter at a base held by UNMISS, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan established last year to consolidate security and create the conditions for development. UNMISS and the South Sudan army have not been able to stop the tribal attacks, in part because the clashes have occurred in a vast remote region with few roads.

In December, hundreds of Murle were killed in attacks by a Nuer militia that calls itself the White Army, known to have at least 8,000 fighters -- a much larger force than UNMISS could handle.

The latest violence comes with about 12,000 South Sudanese soldiers deployed in Jonglei state to disarm the rival tribes by force if necessary. The disarmament was launched Monday, but the continuing tribal violence underscores the likely resistance to disarmament.

South Sudan has carried out a successive disarmament campaign involving the two tribes, all of which have failed, mainly because of the government's inability to provide security for remote communities, according to analysts. Perceiving a threat from neighbors, residents have rapidly rearmed.

Past disarmament efforts also have seen troops torture, rape and execute people, according to a joint report in January by the Danish Demining Group, PACT and the Small Arms Survey.

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-- Robyn Dixon

 

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