South Sudan: Hundreds Killed In Inter-Communal Clashes amid Impasses on Fragile Peace Deal

By Deng Machol

Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan, (centre right) shakes hands with Riek Machar, who was sworn in as First Vice President of the new Transitional Government of National Unity on 22 February 2020.Photo UNMISS/Nektarios Markogiannis

Juba – More than 200 people, including a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staff member, and two other aid workers, have been reportedly killed in a recentl spate of inter-communal violence in the eastern state of Jonglei in South Sudan amid impasses on the implementation of the fragile peace deal.

In the report, at least 300 people were wounded in the violence, which broke out between the Murle and Lou Nuer ethnic communities on Saturday in Pieri, former Bieh state of Jonglei State, according to the government.

Over the weekend, armed men from Murle of Pibor Administration area attacked six villages of Lou Nuer tribe at Uror county areas in Jonglei State. The attacks follow last February’s onslaught by alleged youth from Akobo, who reportedly killed unknown people in remote areas of Pibor.

On Tuesday, the official from Greater Pibor admitted that armed youth from Pibor attacked areas in Greater Akobo over the weekend, said it was ‘revenge.’

In press statement by Boma State Youth Union said they went there as a ‘revenge,’ further warned for more attacks if the Lou Nuer and Dinka Bor didn’t return allegedly abducted children, women and taken cattle in February.

The Secretary-General of the former Bieh State, Daniel Both quoted by Eye radio “We have 242 people dead but we are still receiving dead bodies from people who have died in the vicinity of the bushes where the incident happened.”

The observers say the figure was expected to rise in area. Many suffered gunshot wounds and other trauma, according to health workers.

In the press statement, a patrol from the UN Mission to South Sudan has been sent to the town of Pieri to interview survivors, the organization said in a statement on Wednesday. “The team is investigating reports that many people were killed, injured and lost their homes, adding that “many” huts were burned to the ground.

The UN mission said it had not independently verified the death toll, stressing that ‘it is difficult to verify the number of casualties given conflicting reports and claims”.

However, in the statement, MSF confirmed that one member of its staff had been killed in the fighting.

MSF says more than 50 wounded people, including the two MSF staff members, were brought to the MSF hospital in Lankien – approximately 50 kilometers north of Pieri where they are now receiving treatment.

The doctors without borders say the one patient and three MSF staff were at the healthcare center when the fighting erupted in the area around Pieri in the early morning of Saturday.

“We express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of our staff, and all those affected,” said Steve MacKay, MSF deputy head of mission in South Sudan.

Mackay further condemns in the strongest possible terms the outrageous act of inter-communal violence that has left dozens of people seriously wounded, and fear many more are dead.

Despite that, the organisation has resumed its work in the region after briefly pausing following the attack, he said.

Many locals were forced to flee the area, and several aid workers are still unaccounted for.

Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Alain Noudéhou, has strongly condemned the killing of three aid workers in Jonglei, in northeastern South Sudan, and called for an end to recurring acts of violence which are disrupting life-saving assistance and COVID-19 response in many parts of the country.

 “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the killing of three aid workers in Pieri and call for those responsible to be brought swiftly to justice. The Government, all parties and communities must step up efforts to protect humanitarians who are taking great risks to their safety in order to provide much needed assistance to the most vulnerable people in South Sudan,” said Mr. Noudéhou.

Inter – communal clashes and armed conflict are hampering humanitarian efforts to pre-position food, medicine and other aid supplies in the final weeks before the rains become heavier and cut off road access to vulnerable communities.

“The violence must therefore stop and humanitarians must be able to reach affected communities freely and without fear,” the Humanitarian Coordinator said.

‘Power vacuum in the state”

Inter – communal violence has broken out several times in the past months in Jonglei, an area that has experienced years of food insecurity and was severely affected by flooding last year.

Inter – communal violence is having serious consequences on civilians and aid workers in many parts of the country.

Analyst attributed this heightened tribal clashes across the country to the absence of state governments, calling for quickly appointment of state governors.

South Sudan has just emerged from a six-year civil war that left 380,000 dead and four millions displaced – both internal and external, before devastated the country’s economy.

In February, President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, ex- rebel leader, reached a deal to form a unity government at the national level but remain at deadlock over issues including who will take or govern the country’s 10 states.

James Deng says the lack of state governors has created a “vacuum of power” that fosters the inter-communal violence across the country.

In addition to inter – communal violence in several locations, armed conflict has persisted in Central and Eastern Equatoria over the past months, displacing thousands of people and adding to the over 7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance throughout the country. Most of the affected people are women and children. This conflict has also disrupted the surveillance of desert locusts, another threat to an already fragile situation.

The Secretary-General of Jonglei state confirmed on Tuesday that SSPDF forces were deployed to areas where clashes were reported in Greater Akobo.

In the past, different forums resolved to provide long-lasting solutions for the cycle of inter-tribal clashes that have claimed lives, destroyed property, and resulted in the abduction of women and children as well as displaced residents, have been held but all ended in vain, according to observers.

Some of the crucial resolutions included the formation of joint integrated police that would monitor the free movement of pastoralists and their cattle across the states.

The integrated police were to be based in Gadiang and across border areas.

In 2017, local leaders from the communities of Dinka, Nuer, and Murle also agreed to form community policing and joint mobile courts comprising of cattle keepers to handle criminal cases, return abducted children and report to relevant authorities.

But these agreements have not been implemented or enforced by the national government.

Communities of the greater Jonglei state have for long been wrangling leading to cattle raids and child abductions.

Aid agencies say violence between the communities in Jonglei is driven by competition over resources and fueled by easy access to guns.

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