Hundreds killed in raids on Sudan villages


Heavily armed fighters have killed more than 200 people in raids on villages in South Sudan, where bloody tribal disputes over cattle are jeopardising peace efforts in the oil-rich region, officials said today.

The commissioner of Pibor County, Akot M. Adikiu, said he had seen more than 200 bodies, but had heard reports that hundreds more may have been killed in a string of attacks over the past two weeks.

The surrounding Jonglei State, where Malaysia's Petronas is searching for oil and France's Total owns a huge concession, has long been plagued by tribal violence, often sparked by disputes over livestock. But ethnic fighting has escalated, fuelled by the huge supply of weapons left over from Sudan's two-decade north-south war that ended with a 2005 peace deal.

Africa's longest civil war left painful divisions between ethnic communities that have frustrated efforts to bring peace to South Sudan, in the run up to elections and a referendum on southern independence, both promised under the 2005 accord.

Scores of people have been killed at a time in one-off cattle attacks in South Sudan. But officials said the number of reported deaths in Pibor and the appearance of a coordinated campaign against a series of villages was unusual.

"We believe about 453 people have been killed, based on the bodies and information from chiefs and members from villages," Adikiu said. "Many of the deaths are women and children."

He said at least 17 villages controlled by the Murle tribe were attacked from March 5th to 13th by armed members of the Lou Nuer tribe. He said the attacks were in retaliation for the theft of around 20,000 Lou Nuer cattle in January.