South Sudan horror at deadly cattle vendetta
16 January 2012 Last updated at 11:55 GMT
South Sudan, the world's newest country, has been engulfed by a wave of
deadly raids by rival communities, which have left an unknown number of
people dead. Journalist Hannah McNeish reports from Pibor, which was
attacked by some 6,000 fighters.
Huddled amongst hundreds of people waiting for food distribution in the
blazing midday sun, Labakal Kalahin cradles her 18-month-old baby as she
relives the horror of fleeing armed attackers that tore her family apart.
"We were running to the bush, and they were firing on us, and my daughter
was killed. she was eight years old."
Like tens of thousands of others, Ms Kalahin fled her burning home in Pibor
County, as ethnic violence engulfed South Sudan's Jonglei state.
An age-old vendetta between two communities known for stealing each other's
cattle, women and children recently escalated to unknown proportions when
over 6,000 armed Lou Nuer youths marched on Pibor to attack the Murle.
Ismiah Shan and her eight children escaped death in the village of
Thaugnyang, but others were not so lucky.
"Some of them were shot and some were cut in front of me," she says.
In a vast area with little or no infrastructure, the UN and government have
been unable to give an idea of the death toll caused by this deadly column
of angry young men.
A figure speedily produced by Pibor's county commissioner of more than 3,000
dead remains unverified.
This would make it South Sudan's worst conflict since it gained independence
from Sudan in July 2011.
County medical officer James Chacha witnessed the attacks and thinks "2,000
plus" were killed by attackers en route to Pibor town, that he says
stationed troops struggled to defend.
"In fact they came and they entered the town. The deployment was not that
big to cover the headquarters itself", and surrounding villages felt the
full force of attacks, he said.
Mr Chacha said around 800 government troops in Pibor only fired on attackers
when they had been driven back.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) had 400 peacekeepers in Pibor at the
time of the attack and has increased numbers to 1,000.
"That represents almost half of the UN's 2,100 combat ready personnel", who
will be sent to reinforce densely populated areas, said Unmiss official
Revenge attacks last week, that the government say killed almost 100 people,
are highlighting the authorities' inability to contain violence.
"They are villages of cattle created by people in remote areas. You can
hardly protect them," said Jonglei state governor Kuol Manyang after an
attack on Thursday night that killed 57 people, mostly women and children.
"The lack of access and roads is a major setback. Even if you have police
20km (12 miles) away, they can't get there," he said.
Attacks on Friday left 13 people dead in a village just 6km from an army
garrison, and some troops were sent to protect other areas.
The UN is also concerned about accessibility for a "massive humanitarian
response" aimed at around 60,000 people forced from their homes.
"Our survival now depends on the food brought to us," said Akuer Alan, who
like many has been living on wild fruit.
The UN's World Food Program (WFP) registered more than 30,000 people in
Pibor last week and 4,500 in Gumuruk, roughly 40km away.
South Sudan UN Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande says the lack of aid
agencies working in the troubled state poses further difficulty.
"In some of the worst-hit places, there are only a handful partners on the
ground. In some places, there are none," she says.
WFP is setting up distribution in Likuangole, one of the villages razed to
Pibor's only clinic, serving up to 160,000 people and run by medical charity
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), was looted and ransacked in the attack.
MSF has been unable to track down around half of its 156 local staff since.
Scattered papers and piles of medicines litter the mostly cordoned off
premises, now treating many people suffering from malaria and injuries.
"We are also seeing a lot of people with gunshot wounds, of people running
away from the violence," said Karel Janssens, MSF Coordinator in Pibor.
Ending the enmity
In Jonglei, people affected by violence have criticised the government for
inaction and delay.
Aid worker Both Jangjuol witnessed another revenge attack in Akobo that
killed 24 people.
"Even the SPLA [army] now is residing in its headquarters - they just can't
take these people on... the government has no control," he says.
South Sudan is awash with small arms after decades of civil war that ended
Military spokesman Philip Aguer said more than 20,000 guns in Jonglei were
"magnifying the disputes".
He said when another 3,000 troops are deployed, 6,000 would "disarm all
these communities" to contain violence.
Douglas Johnson, a Sudan expert at Oxford University, said that in the 1980s
and 90s, both the Khartoum government and the then rebel SPLA army fighting
it armed the minority Murle community, leading to "the rise of ad-hoc
militias" in Jonglei.
Cattle lie at the heart of a long-standing enmity between the two
In a country without banks, cows represent wealth, a dowry, property and a
source of food in the lean season. A single cow can be worth hundreds of
dollars depending on its colouring.
The Murle and Lou Nuer have long raided each other's cattle, or battled over
access to grazing land and water but the conflicts have turned increasingly
deadly with the arrival of automatic weapons.
Koko Alan escaped alive but is distraught after 500 of his prized cows were
"I don't know what I will do now," he said.
A December statement by a Nuer group based in the US claiming to be behind
the advancing army vowed to "wipe out the entire Murle tribe on the face of
But Minister of Information Barnaba Marial Benjamin said the genocidal
statement was the work of a refugee living in the US trying to capitalise on
conflict he had no connection to.
The Jonglei governor thought it was timed for a "war planned by another
He said that, after cattle raids in August 2011 left 600 people dead, the
Nuer had agreed to halt retaliation if abducted women and children were
returned. "This attack was supposed to take place in September but the
But after a three-month deadline passed and church-led peace talks collapsed
in December, the rampaging youths unleashed their wrath.
Now authorities are struggling to stop a bitter enmity spiralling out of
* Audio slideshow: Cattle country
Continue reading the main story
> Sudan: Coping with
* Pointing to war? <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15728191
* Forced to choose between Sudans
* Cattle raids threaten new nation
* Garang's ex-chef savours freedom
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Mon Jan 16 2012 - 08:24:18 EST