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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’