JUBA, South Sudan: Heavily armed rebels have killed more than 100 people including women and children in a cattle raid in South Sudan’s troubled Jonglei state, local officials said yesterday.
The people of Walgak in Akobo County were migrating north Friday to the wetlands with cattle “and were being escorted by an army platoon when they came under attack by a huge force using automatic weapons,” Jonglei governor Kuol Manyang said.
He said 103 people were killed, including 14 soldiers from the platoon, while the rest were civilians, mostly women and children.
Deputy military spokesman Kella Kueth confirmed the incident and said some 500 people remained missing. He was not able to confirm the military casualties.
Akobo County Commissioner Goi Jooyul issued a statement confirming the deaths of the 14 troops and quoted survivors as saying the assailants were armed with everything from rocket-propelled grenades to spears and machetes.
His statement also confirmed “hundreds of families” were still missing.
“The attackers left with cattle and hundreds of children and women who have not reported back to the village,” he said, explaining that some 3,000 people in all had been moving with their cattle when they came under attack.
“The army is trying to retrieve the cattle from the criminals, and that will not be easy,” he said. State governor Manyang said the raiders were a mixture of civilians and armed rebels and were all ethnic Murle from Pibor County in Jonglei.
Six months after South Sudan declared independence from Sudan, its eastern Jonglei state was engulfed in ethnic violence when thousands of youths from the Lou Nuer tribe marched on Pibor vowing to wipe out the Murle.
The United Nations says over 600 people were killed in that attack and around 300 more in smaller reprisal attacks. Local estimates were much higher, running into the thousands.
The UN and government said an army-led disarmament campaign that started in March was a success, aside from serious human rights abuses reported in Pibor County.
But despite disarmament efforts, guns remain common in Jonglei, an isolated and swampy state about the size of Austria and Switzerland combined but with limited mud roads often impassable for months during heavy rains.
Tit-for-tat cattle raids are common in this vast, grossly under-developed state.
South Sudan was left in ruins by decades of war with northern Sudanese forces, who fueled conflict by backing proxy militia forces across the south, often exacerbating historical enmities between rival groups.