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57 killed in tribal revenge attack in South Sudan

Hundreds of armed attackers from a South Sudanese tribe that suffered a devastating assault last month charged into three villages, burned them to the ground and killed 57 people, an official said today, an act that perpetuates a cycle of revenge attacks in the world's newest nation.

world Updated: Jan 14, 2012 20:57 IST

Hundreds of armed attackers from a South Sudanese tribe that suffered a devastating assault last month charged into three villages, burned them to the ground and killed 57 people, an official said on Friday, an act that perpetuates a cycle of revenge attacks in the world's newest nation.

Some 400 men from the Murle ethnic group attacked the Lou Nuer villages on Wednesday, said Simon Hoth, a county commissioner in Jonglei state, the site of devastating violence the last three weeks. Hoth, a member of the Lou Nuer, said 57 were killed and 40 people were missing and likely abducted.

Twenty-five women and 23 children were among those killed in the Uror county attack, Hoth said. Fifty-two people were wounded.

"They have butchered these people," he said. There was no immediate independent confirmation of Hoth's figures.

Murle fighters were accused of killing 22 people in similar attacks in neighboring Akobo county on Sunday.

Uror was the scene of a larger Murle attack in August in which an estimated 600 Lou Nuer were killed. Those attacks prompted a series of retaliatory raids by the Lou Nuer in Pibor county beginning December 23.

One Murle official has said that 3,000 Murle died in those attacks. Neither the central government or the UN has confirmed that figure, but scores are feared to have died.

The government of South Sudan recently declared Jonglei state a disaster area. The UN mission in South Sudan estimates at least 60,000 people have been affected by the ongoing violence. The UN operation says it has launched one of the most "complex and expensive" humanitarian operations since the end of the Sudanese civil war in 2005.

South Sudan became the world's newest country last year after decades of war with Sudan, but it is now experiencing massive internal violence.

But with retaliation attacks occurring more and more frequently, there is little hope for an end to these clashes. Cattle raiding is at the heart of the tribal clashes. The Lou Nuer are said to have stolen tens of thousands of cattle from the Murle in the December attack.

"Arms are still in the hands of the civilian population," said Jonglei Gov. Kual Manyang Juuk. "And these attacks will continue, definitely."

Juuk said the government is sending police to patrol the area, but Jonglei's extreme underdevelopment makes securing the area difficult. "This is a challenge for the government. They don't live in formal towns," he said.