UN on alert in South Sudan flashpoint
Juba - UN peacekeepers remain on high alert in South Sudan's flashpoint town of Pibor where escalating tribal violence has prompted thousands to flee, a senior UN official said on Sunday.
The United Nations has deployed peacekeeping reinforcements in Pibor in the troubled Jonglei state over the past four days as a column of 6 000 armed youths from the Lou Nuer tribe marched on the town pursuing a rival tribe.
"It appears that the column is now moving away from the town but the situation is very fluid," Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, told AFP.
"We remain on high alert and are very concerned that civilians may be at risk," she said.
Parthesarathy Rajendran, head of mission at Doctors without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres - MSF) said the staff from the organisation's hospital in Pibor town and its two outreach clinics in the area have for the most part fled into the bush.
"What we are hearing is that our clinic has been damaged and a lot of things looted," he told AFP.
"Since the start of the fighting [in the area] one week before, the whole population has started displacing and running into the bush," he said, adding that MSF is the sole provider of health care in Pibor county.
He was not able to confirm whether the column of Lou Nuer youths was moving away from Pibor.
The Lou Nuer youths, several hundred of whom had arrived on the outskirts of Pibor on Friday, were pursuing members of the Murle tribe who began fleeing towards Pibor several days ago after the Lou Nuer raided the town of Lukangol.
That town, the MSF spokesperson said, has been reduced to ashes.
A group calling itself the Nuer Youth White Army issued a statement on December 26 vowing to "wipe out the entire Murle tribe... as the only solution to guarantee long-term security of Nuer cattle".
The group accuses the Murle of raiding Nuer cattle and killing members of their tribe since 2005, when a peace agreement ended two decades of civil war and led to South Sudan's independence this year.
Neither the UN nor South Sudan's former rebel army the SPLA have protected the Nuer, the group claimed.
"We the Nuer Youth have decided to fight the Murle, SPLA and the UN," it said.
To assist those left in the town, the UN's World Food Programme flew in a helicopter with food on Saturday, Grande said, after plans for an airlift on Friday were suspended following reports that security was deteriorating.
"As of yesterday there was no food in Pibor, so this was an urgent step," Grande said.
"We're going to try to assist several thousand people for up to two weeks," she added. "But of course that depends on security conditions."
Grande said Sunday that if reports of "wounded or other highly vulnerable groups" being stuck in Pibor town were confirmed, the UN would "do what's necessary to get them out".
The UN had raised the alarm in September over cattle raids in the region that had already left around 1 000 people dead since June, calling it a crisis that threatened to engulf the fledgling nation.
The raids involved "army-like" movements of people with new weapons and satellite phones, the UN said at the time.
The South separated from Khartoum-led Sudan in July after an overwhelming vote for independence following decades of conflict that left some two million people dead.