Fears are growing over the increasingly ethnic and violent nature of the conflict in South Sudan’s Jonglei State. It’s the latest fighting in the region following independence for South Sudan last July.
Aid workers from Caritas and Catholic Relief Services (CRS is a Caritas member) joined an assessment team to Boma in South Sudan at the weekend. Over 2300 people have fled to the small town (pop. estimated at 7000) following violence in Jonglei in recent weeks.
The team was looking at the shelter needs in Boma. Most people have found a place among in the thatch-walled compounds of residents and the local government has distributed IOM kits containing essential items.
Boma is the furthest people have fled in sizable numbers and more continue to arrive daily. There is growing concern for those trapped closer to the conflict. A day’s walk is the isolated town of Labraap, where 10,000 people are said to be left without shelter or humanitarian assistance.
Over 120,000 people have so far been affected by the extreme violence in Jonglei between the Murle and Lou Nuer communities. Villages have been burned to the ground and women and children attacked.
Cattle raiding between the two groups goes back generations but South Sudan’s two decade civil war with northern Sudan left the region awash with weapons and with competition over resources. There is now growing concern among church and aid officials over the increasingly ethnic nature the violence is taking. They point to increasingly hate-filled rhetoric and say that if cattle are the target, why have population centres been attacked.
In a 18 January statement on Jonglei, the Sudan Council of Churches (the SCC) said: “Brutal actions were carried out against non-combatants. Ethnic hatred was expressed verbally, in graffiti left by the attackers and on the internet, and this could be the precursor to larger-scale atrocities.”
CRS Deputy Head of programmes for South Sudan Renee Lambert was on the assessment trip to Boma. She said, “The situation in Jonglei is a pretty worrisome development. The nature of the current conflict has shifted. It represents a break from the traditional social fabric. It is being driven by young people who have lost their respect for their elders.”
Church peacebuilding efforts are now urgently looking at how to reengage with young people through community networks. At the same time, they’re looking to the government and the UN to stabilise the security situation.
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