Thousands massacred as two tribes go to war in South Sudan

UN peacekeepers tell residents of Jonglei state capital to flee as raiders approach

More than 3,000 people have been reported killed in South Sudan during a week of clashes between two tribes in the world's newest state.

Hundreds of children are missing and entire villages are said to have been burnt as a huge raiding party from the Lou Nuer tribe swept through a remote area in the east of the country, attacking their neighbours, the Murle people.

The war party, estimated to be 6,000-strong, has been marching south towards the main town in the Murle area, Pibor, crossing hundreds of miles on foot.

The fighting is part of an escalating war of reprisals between two ethnic groups who rely for survival on vast herds of cattle in one of the least developed countries on earth, and launch regular raids to snatch livestock, women and children.

"There have been mass killings, a massacre," Joshua Konyi, commissioner for Pibor county in Jonglei state, told Agence France-Presse. "We have been out counting the bodies, and we calculate so far that 2,182 women and children were killed and 959 men died."

Sightings of the column of Lou Nuer fighters last week prompted the United Nations to send in peacekeepers and the South's security force, the SPLA, to warn residents in Pibor to flee the town.

The UN has confirmed that tens, maybe hundreds, have died but has not been able to give an accurate figure as many of the killings have taken place in small settlements far from any communications.

The Murle's home area in Eastern Jonglei state is among the least developed parts of South Sudan – which only gained its independence from the north in July last year. Mobile phones have only reached Pibor in the last 18 months and beyond a small clinic run by the medical charity MSF, there is no healthcare facility for hundreds of miles.

Only dirt tracks connect the town to the outside world and it is cut off completely for half the year during the rainy season, when planes often cannot land on its waterlogged airstrip.

Due to their isolation and rumoured involvement in child abduction, the Murle are widely distrusted by the country's major tribes, the Dinka and Nuer. Their relative exclusion has seen very few Murle take senior roles in South Sudan's new government or in the powerful SPLA.

Both the Murle and the Lou Nuer dispatch most of their young men to cattle camps, where they are responsible for guarding the community's livestock and live away from the rest of society for months at a time. Large caches of weapons, often left over from two decades of civil war with the north, are stored in many of these camps.

During the dry season raiding parties cross into their rivals' terrain in a series of sometimes epic raids and counter-raids.

Their have been attempts by the government to disarm different factions, especially in the vast state of Jonglei, where many of the clashes have taken place, but the administration has little authority over its outlying areas.

Jonglei state information minister, Isaac Ajiba, would not confirm or deny the claims made by commissioner Konyi, who is an ethnic Murle. "Yes, there have been casualties, but we don't have the details," he said.

South Sudan's army spokesman, Philip Aguer, said he was waiting for his troops on the ground to report back on casualties: "For the assessment to be credible they must have gone into the villages to count all the bodies."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Sales Advisor - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telephone Sales Advisor is re...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker - OTE £20,000

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An office based Appointment Mak...

Recruitment Genius: Healthcare Assistant

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This provider of care services is looking for...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Administrator

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Purpose of Role: To co-ordinate maintena...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent