The United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan today said it has sent patrol units and a medical team to an area on the country’s border with Ethiopia where unidentified raiders reportedly attacked several cattle camps occupied by members of the Lou Nuer ethnic group.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said the patrol and medical teams were dispatched to Akobo and Wanding areas to determine the circumstances of the reported attacks and to provide medical aid to those affected.
According to information provided by the local authorities, most of the cattle camps that were attacked are located on the Ethiopia side of the border. Some 63 wounded people have been treated in the hospital on Akobo town, but reliable casualty figures, including deaths, are not yet available.
The mission condemned the attacks and urged all communities in Jonglei state to exercise restraint and put an end to the violence that has resulted in heavy loss of life in recent years.
The latest attacks came even as the Government of South Sudan appointed a peace committee to broker reconciliation between feuding communities in Jonglei. A voluntary and simultaneous civilian disarmament process has also been launched in an effort to break the cycle of violence.
Hilde F. Johnson, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan and head of UNMISS, urged communities in Jonglei to cooperate to ensure that the Government’s peace initiatives are successfully implemented. She also called on the Government to effectively carry out its responsibility to protect the civilians.
“It is very good in our view that the Government has decided to use voluntary disarmament as the approach and we are seeing that they are putting community chiefs, local commissioners, in charge, together with the police, and the SPLA, the army, is only standing by in case of violence or major resistance,” Ms. Johnson told UN Radio in an interview.
“UNMISS has a mandate to protect civilians. We will therefore monitor carefully what is happening. We will have a presence on the ground with our troops,” she said. “We are also likely to have joint monitoring teams with presence from government institutions that are not involved in the disarmament process.”
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that thousands of members of the Lou Nuer community from South Sudan have sought refuge in western Ethiopia.
An estimated 15,000 people, most of them women, children and the elderly, who fled from Akobo county in Jonglei state have entered Ethiopia since mid-February, according to UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards.
He told reporters in Geneva that the refugees have cited clashes with members of the rival Murle community and fear of reprisal attacks as the main reason for their flight.
Clashes between the two groups – which have history of inter-communal feuds resulting from cattle rustling – have affected some 120,000 people in Jonglei since December.
In Ethiopia, the newly arrived refugees are settling around the border town of Matar in the Gambella region, some 500 kilometres west of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Most of them are living in makeshift huts, according to a team of UNHCR and partner agencies that visited the area twice accompanied by Ethiopian officials.
Local communities in Matar have been sharing their meagre resources with the refugees, including food and water. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is extending food distribution to the area to benefit both the refugees and local community.
UNHCR is helping the Ethiopian authorities to set up a reception centre near Matar, where the refugees are being screened by the Ethiopian officials before they are relocated to Fugnido refugee camp, some 110 kilometres from Gambella.
“We have so far transferred 1,300 new arrivals to the camp, where they are registered as asylum-seekers and issued with food ration cards,” said Mr. Edwards.
Fugnido refugee camp was opened in 1993 and at one point hosted some 40,000 refugees. Before the latest influx, the camp was home to some 23,000 refugees, mainly from Sudan.