Intercommunal clashes, mostly involving cattle, have killed nearly 70 people across various parts of South Sudan in the past week, according to witnesses and officials.
In the most recent attack, 14 people were killed and 13 injured during a cattle raid Monday in Duk County, according to authorities in South Sudan’s central-eastern state of Jonglei.
Jonglei’s acting governor, Tuong Majok, told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus that the Pangonkei cattle camp in the Duk-Padiet district was attacked by “terrorist youth,” allegedly from the neighboring Greater Pibor Administrative Area. He said the attackers raided several cattle herds but returned the animals Monday night.
On Sunday, herders suspected to be from Sudan’s Omran community raided a cattle camp in Rubkona County of Unity state, said Stephen Salaam, the state’s security adviser. At least seven people were killed and 10 other South Sudanese herders were injured, said Salaam.
“The Arab youth came and attacked a cattle camp in Payang-gai. They fought with our youth in the cattle camp and killed seven people on our side of Rubkona,” Salaam told South Sudan in Focus.
The incident prompted the U.S. embassies in Khartoum and Juba to issue a joint statement Wednesday calling on all sides to return to talks.
In the deadliest attacks, militiamen killed 27 people on Saturday and another 20 on Sunday in the special Abyei Administrative Area, according to Abyei chief administrator Kuol Deim Kuol.
Abyei officials suspect that gunmen from Twic County of Warrap state carried out the attacks and were joined by Sudanese Misseriya nomads.
“The Misseriya came in huge number, and they were joined by the militia element, mostly from Twic area, and they attacked again the same village, Madingthon,” Kuol told South Sudan in Focus.
In South Sudanese culture, cattle are highly important — and not only for food. In some communities, the animals are a store of wealth and a symbol of social status and used to facilitate dowry and blood money payments or to compensate for other transgressions.
Regarding Monday’s attack in Duk County, Jonglei’s acting Governor Majok suggested that President Salva Kiir dissolve the Greater Pibor Administrative Area if its leaders cannot control their young men.
“Because they are attacking with no reason, we say that they are terrorists and they should be treated as terrorists,” Majok told VOA.
Lokali Amea, the Greater Pibor Administrative Area’s chief administrator, said he was not informed about Monday’s attack and disputed allegations his administration could not control armed men from the area.
“We are managing our people. If they are doing such things, they do it in cattle camps who are cattle keepers, but in Jonglei, there were people killed in the town, so where was the government and where were the NGOs [nongovernmental organizations]?” Amea asked South Sudan in Focus.
Kiir’s press secretary, Ateny Wek Ateny, said the administration had not received any official request to dissolve the Greater Pibor Administrative Area.
“If they have not yet written to the president, there is nothing I should comment about,” Ateny said.
Wednesday’s joint statement by the U.S. embassies expressed great concern about the recent escalation of violence in Abyei and Agok. The embassies offered condolences to the families of those killed and said the U.S. supported expanded patrols in Abyei by the U.N. Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).
The embassies noted that UNISFA’s mandate authorizes peacekeepers to apply all necessary means, including the use of force, to protect civilians under threat of physical violence.
“We call on all sides to cease reprisals and return to dialogue,” the embassies’ statement said.