January 4, 2012 (JUBA) – South Sudan has declared the state of Jonglei, which suffered intertribal fighting in recent days, a disaster area and appealed to the international relief agencies to help in providing relief assistance to the affected populations.
Fighting erupted in late December when the 6,000 armed men from the Lou-Nuer ethnic group attacked Pibor county, the home of the Murle community, in the latest of a series of raids between the two groups.
Between 20,000 and 50,000 members of the Murle community have been displaced and hundreds are expected to have been killed. Over 1,000 have died in cattle raids, abductions and counter attacks in the last seven months.
Authorities say that the number of the dead in the latest attack, which reached its peak over New Year, may never be known because the casualties from the first heavy fighting in the areas of Nam or Biemni, at the border areas between the two communities, was not assessed.
South Sudan officials say that that it took two days for the Luo-Nuer to fight their way into Murle territory in Nam, before the Murle pulled back allowing the armed group to advance into Lilkwangole payam [district].
After failed attempts by South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar and other senior politicians to convince the Lou-Nuer not to continue their advance to attack Pibor town, move further south to raid cattle, seek to disarm the Murle or seek the return of 180 people they claim were abducted from their community.
Most of the Murle land was affected by the attacks with the exception of Boma payam [district] in the far south-eastern part of Pibor county.
Officials say that 83 members of the Lou-Nuer and 53 Murle were wounded. The numbers are less among the Murle, government sources say, as they may have not managed to escape.
A huge number more are feared to have died when the Lou-Nuer youth attacked Pibor town and expanded their operations to other payams [districts] and villages, chasing and hunting for the fleeing Murle community in the bushes.
Mary Boyoi, a South Sudanese musician from the Murle community, told the BBC that a lot of women and children lost their lives as they were left behind by the men who were able to escape faster.
The revenge attack by Lou-Nuer came as a result of a cycle of violence between communities in the state. In August, one month after South Sudan became independent, the Murle carried out a surprise attack in Lou-Nuer area, killing over 700, wounding hundreds others and raiding over 38,000 heads of cattle. They said the attack was in retaliation to an attack by Lou-Nuer in June 2011.
On Wednesday South Sudan’s cabinet held an extraordinary meeting, chaired by President Salva Kiir Mayardit, during which it was briefed by the Vice President, Riek Machar on the situation in Jonglei state. The cabinet deliberated on the situation and passed a resolution declaring Jonglei state a disaster area.
The minister of information and spokesperson of the government, Barnaba Maria, after the cabinet meeting on Wednesday said the cabinet appealed to the international community to assist in the resettlement of the populations affected in the three communities of Murle, Lou-Nuer and Dinka in the state.
Authorities say that the Lou-Nuer youth have returned and are on the way back to their territories, with tens of thousands of heads of cattle. Cattle are important for status and for bride prices in many South Sudanese communities.
The resolution also called for the disarmament of the whole of Jonglei state to enable the government to address the underdevelopment of the state.
The cabinet fell short of declaring a state of emergency in the state.