News24

South Sudan tribal clashes hotting up

2011-05-03 20:45

Juba - Clashes in south Sudan have left many dead in separate cattle raids and rebel attacks, officials said on Tuesday, as the soon to be independent state struggles to contain bloody violence.

"There has been on-off fighting between the young men," said David Duop Lam, the security minister for troubled Jonglei state.

Lam said a series tit-for-tat raids broke out in late April in Jonglei's Pibor county between rival gunmen from the Murele and Lou Nuer ethnic groups, sparked by arguments over cattle.

"There have been many attacks and many casualties but no confirmation of exactly how many have died," Lam added.

"One group have made attacks, and the other has responded in revenge."

Lam, speaking just after returning from the affected area, said extra troops from the southern army were being deployed in the area to stop the fighting.

Over 1 000 people have died in violence and at least 100 000 forced from their homes since a largely peaceful independence referendum in January, according to UN and official figures.

United Nations sources and the southern army confirmed the cattle raids but could not verify exact casualties in the remote area.

Clashes common

Clashes between rival ethnic groups in south Sudan are common, often sparked by cattle rustling and disputes over natural resources.

But the region is also reeling from a series of violent rebellions, with at least seven separate militia groups battling the southern government, souring the mood ahead of full international recognition in July.

On Tuesday morning, a fresh attack by rebels seeking to overthrow the southern government left a further eight people dead in oil-producing Unity state, officials and rebels said.

"Eight people were killed and four were wounded in the attack," said Charles Kuol, commissioner of Unity's Mayom county, the site of heavy fighting last month between the army and general turned rebel Peter Gadet.

At least a 100 people died in the fighting there, which forced oil workers out of the volatile area and caused production to drop.

"It is worrying to have the rebels attack again, because people are already struggling having left their homes from the last attacks," Kuol added.

But rebel spokesperson Bol Gatkouth threatened more attacks in coming days.

"We are just warming up," he told AFP by telephone. "This was a small attack compared to what will come."

The scale of violence in the south is raising concern for the plight of civilians, as the region gears up for independence.