Tribal fighters killed at least 15 people in clashes with a rival group in south Sudan’s troubled Jonglei state, one of the focuses of a recent surge in ethnic violence, the region’s army said.
Aid groups believe as many as 2500 people may have died in inter-tribal fighting since the beginning of last year, mostly in Jonglei, threatening stability in the oil-producing region ahead of presidential and legislative elections due in April.
Armed members of the Dinka Rut, part of the south’s largest ethnic group the Dinka, attacked a settlement occupied by the Nuer Thiang group last Thursday, southern army spokesperson Kuol Deim Kuol told Reuters.
“On the Nuer side some 15 were killed and 16 wounded. We don’t yet have details of the casualties on the Dinka side,” he said.
Kuol added it is not yet clear what the fighting near the larger settlement of Fangak was about. “It could be tribal differences. We don’t know yet.”
Ethnic fighting has plagued the south for years, often sparked by deadly cycles of cattle raiding and revenge attacks.
But the high death toll from recent clashes, and the targeting of women and children, has sparked accusations of political meddling.
Southern leaders accused their former civil war foes in the north of arming tribal militias to destabilise the region, while analysts suggested leading figures in the south may also be arming fellow tribe members to build up their constituencies.
Sudan’s south, where most follow Christianity and traditional beliefs, fought the Muslim north for more than two decades before a 2005 peace deal that promised the elections and a January 2011 vote on southern secession.
The accord gave the south its own semi-autonomous government which has been unable to get rid of thousands of small arms left over from the conflict.
Nuer tribesmen attacked Dinka cattle herders in Tonj East, in the south’s Warrap state, in early January killing at least 139 people and wounding 54.
That massacre was not necessarily linked to Thursday’s attack as the groups were from different parts of the larger Dinka and Nuer tribes and the fighting took place in a different state.
On another front, officials said 22 people were injured in clashes between students and police in the remote southern town of Yambio last Thursday, just days after celebrations there marking the fifth anniversary of the 2005 peace deal.
The youngsters took to the streets complaining they had not been paid for taking part in a parade during the celebrations, state governor Jemma Nunu told Reuters.
Police were sent in to try and stop any civil unrest but the demonstration quickly turned violent, the governor added. “They were beating the police and the police were beating them,” she said referring to the demonstrators.