03/01/2012 - South Sudanese children fleeing ethnic violence in the Jonglei state have been separated from their parents, some of whom are presumed dead, says the Red Cross.
The United Nations (UN) now estimates that more than 20,000 people of the Murle tribe in South Sudan’s Jonglei state have been displaced. Various humanitarian organizations have released vital information on how the conflict has affected children.
Less than six months after South Sudan obtained its independence, tribal rivalries have erupted into violence this week when armed men attacked the town of Pibor. The attackers were from the Lou Nuer tribe, who have been in conflict with the Merle over land resources and cattle raid. The Lou Nuer are reported to have burned huts in the village and looted two medical centres run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Save the Children has estimated that 25,000 women and children are hiding in the Bush outside of Pibor.
“Children in the area already live in continual fear of violence and are often abducted in raids. If fighting continues, thousands more could be killed, maimed, abducted or recruited to fight,” said the group.
Already the Red Cross is seeking to reunite 150 unaccompanied children with their families, who were lost to them during their flight to safety. Most of the children are between one and seven years old, but the youngest is only six months. It is feared that many of their parents have been killed, leaving these vulnerable children orphans.
While an official death toll has not been released, community leaders believe it to be in the hundreds.
Mary Boyoi Gola is a representative of the Murle community peace negotiation team who spoke to the AP. She says that the Lou Nuer carried out a massacre of women and children who fled to the river Kangen and were trapped by the river’s edge.
The Red Cross’ David Gai expects that some of the parents have died, while others are still living. The organization is currently working to register the children. He, too, has heard reports of the Kangen massacre, but says that these reports are difficult to verify.
“They [the civilians] fled in haste and have no food or water, some of them doubtless carrying wounds or injuries, and now they are on their own, hiding, beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance,” said Parthesarathy Rajendran, head of the MSF mission in the country, in a statement yesterday.
MSF is reported to have lost contact with 130 of its local staff members, who are though to have fled into the bush with the rest of the thousands of civilians, leaving Pibor a virtual “ghost town.” Save the Children has also lost contact with some of its staff members.
UN troops have reached Pibor and the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that Sudanese officials have affirmed that Pibor is under the full control of the government and the Lou Nuer have begun to return to their homes.