Nairobi — 'The violence must therefore stop and humanitarians must be able to reach affected communities freely.'
At least 280 civilians have been killed in inter-communal clashes in South Sudan's northeastern Jonglei state, government authorities said. Among the dead were three humanitarian workers.
The violence began on Saturday, when members of the Murle ethnic group attacked the town of Pieri and ethnic Lou Nuer villages in Uror county. A Médecins Sans Frontières staff member was killed in Pieri, along with two aid workers from a local NGO. The violence continued into Sunday, with homes torched and looted.
More than 50 people with gunshot wounds, including two MSF staff, were taken to the MSF hospital in Lankien, 50 kilometres north of Pieri, the medical charity said.
Tit-for-tat inter-communal killings have been occurring over several months. The worst incident was in mid-February, when a Lou Nuer attack on Murle communities killed hundreds - reportedly revenge for persistent Murle raids on Lou Nuer villages. Lou Nuer elders said in a press statement this week that Murle politicians were behind this weekend's violence, and threatened retaliation.
David Shearer, the UN's special representative for South Sudan, said in a written statement that some of the violence can be attributed to the power vacuum created by the failure of the new coalition government to appoint governors to the country's 10 states, including Jonglei. He added that the killings were also fuelled by "economic deprivation" as a result of last year's floods, which "wiped away many homes and killed thousands of cattle which families rely on for their survival".
The flooding has left some households in Jonglei's Akobo and Duk counties facing "catastrophe" levels of hunger. Rains are again falling, and aid agencies are racing to pre-position food and medicine before they become too heavy 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 UN's humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, Alain Noudéhou, said in a statement.
- Obi Anyadike