Armed Nuer tribesmen have killed at least 139 members of a rival tribe in an attack in a remote area of southern Sudan, an official said yesterday.
The Nuer gunmen attacked Dinka cattle herders last Saturday in Tonj East, one of the most remote parts of oil-producing south Sudan, and seized about 5000 animals, the deputy governor of the surrounding Warrap state, Sabino Makana, told Reuters.
“They killed 139 people and wounded 54. Nobody knows how many attackers were killed. But it may be many as a lot of people came to fight.”
A surge of tribal violence in 2009 resulted in the deaths of about 2500 people and forced 350 000 to flee their homes in the south, a report issued by ten aid groups including Oxfam, Save the Children and TearFund said yesterday.
There was now a risk the violence could escalate, undermining a fragile 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war, the report added.
“A lethal cocktail of rising violence, chronic poverty and political tensions has left the peace deal on the brink of collapse,” it said.
The underdeveloped region has long been plagued by violent tribal clashes, often involving cattle-rustling, although the scale of recent attacks has shocked observers.
Southern leaders last year accused Khartoum of backing militias to undermine the south, although some politicians acknowledged southern officials may also have been arming fellow tribesmen to build up support ahead of elections due in April.
Khartoum dismissed the accusation.
The United Nations told Reuters it was sending a team to the Tonj East area to check on the reports, saying other sources had confirmed there were a large number of deaths.
Lise Grande, the head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the south, said fighting had also been reported in three other areas.
The report from the ten aid agencies called on UN peacekeepers to step up protection of civilians and urged donors to increase funding for development programmes.
World powers also needed to do more to mediate between northern and southern leaders as the country prepared for political flashpoints, including elections due in April and a referendum on whether the south should split off as an independent country in January 2011, said the report.
“It is not yet too late to avert disaster, but the next 12 months are a crossroads for Africa’s largest country,” Oxfam policy advisor Maya Mailer said in a statement.
“Last year saw a surge in violence in southern Sudan. This could escalate even further and become one of the biggest emergencies in Africa in 2010.”
The north-south war that began in 1983 killed around 2 million people and drove 4 million from their homes, destabilising much of east Africa.
The long clash between the Muslim north and the south, where most follow Christianity and traditional beliefs, was also complicated by conflicts over ethnicity, ideology and oil.