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Toll Passes 600 in South Sudan Clashes, UN Says

Published: 08-22-11

Reprinted from The New York Times August 22, 2011 By JOSH KRON KAMPALA, Uganda — The death toll from a cattle raid in an estranged region of weeks-old South Sudan rose significantly on Monday with the United Nations saying more than 600 people had been killed. The fighting, a retaliatory attack last Thursday by ethnic Murle on three Nuer villages, was originally reported to have resulted in 58 deaths. But on Monday, the United Nations said the flow of information had been hampered by vast distances and poor logistics. In a statement, the United Nations said that up to 30,000 head of cattle had been stolen and that it was investigating the possibility that as many as 200 people had been abducted, making it one of the largest attacks in recent memory. The statement called for an end to the “wanton violence” in the region. “The casualties are very significant,” the United Nations special representative Hilde F. Johnson said in a telephone interview. “We are deeply concerned.” Ms. Johnson said that the raids, which are part of an ongoing conflict, did not reflect political instability in the country, but that it had “deep roots.” South Sudan became the world newest country last month when it declared independence from the north after decades of civil war. In anindependence day speech to tens of thousands of residents in July, President Salva Kiir granted amnesties and envisaged a bright national future forged through national identity. But a host of problems that have the potential for conflict remain, including disputes with the north over oil rights, border delineation and the contested region of Abyei. Within South Sudan itself, the army lacks cohesion and the Dinka ethnic group is criticized by other groups for holding top posts in the government and army. A number of rebellions in the country continue, and the United Nations said on Monday that an alarming number of weapons was accumulating in Jonglei State, where the recent violence took place. “There is a big gap between announcing a decision and figuring out how to implement it,” said Bruce Patton, a co-founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project. The “danger,” he said, “is lost momentum, disillusionment, and often lingering distrust.” In a society where cattle are esteemed, cattle raiding has been a violent source of conflict. In June, just weeks before independence, the Dinka and the Nuer, who have been at odds with each other, teamed up in Jonglei State to attack the Murle, killing more than 400 people and stealing thousands of cattle. The Murle raid on the local Nuer villages in Jonglei last week was an act of retaliation, the United Nations said, and it warned that more of them could follow. “We fear a cycle of violence that will never end,” Ms. Johnson said.