At the end of last month, a militia of 8,000 youths from the Lou Nuer ethnic group rampaged the eastern Pibor area of South Sudan, “unleash[ing] a spasm of destruction and violence on a rival ethnic group, burning down huts, looting stores and mercilessly hunting down women and children.” The clash between the Lou Nuer and the Murle lasted several days, resulting in gunfire exchange with the South Sudanese Army, as well as the theft of tens of thousands of cows. Though the death toll remains unconfirmed by the Army and the UN, it has been reported that more than 3,000 villagers were massacred and 50,000 individuals fled their homes.
According to McClatchy correspondent Alan Boswell,
Online forums and private conversations are filled with vitriol aimed at the Murle, a small, politically marginalized group that numbers between 100,000 and 150,000 and is neighbored by both the Dinka and the Lou Nuer, South Sudan’s two dominant tribes.
During the long civil war in which South Sudan won its independence from Sudan, the Murle were seen as traitors. They’re accused regularly of abducting their neighbors’ children, a practice not uncommon across South Sudan.
Chris Chapman, Minority Rights Group’s Head of Conflict Prevention, explained,
The attacks, which on the face of it appear to be cattle raids, have deeper underlying causes related to poverty, competition for scarce resources, the ubiquity of small arms left over from a decades-long war and marginalization of ethnic minorities. In addition, the conflict between the Lou Nuer and Murle is taking on a dynamic of repeated revenge attacks, highlighting the need for the government to take urgent action to protect innocent civilians.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and to Burkina Faso David H. Shinn offers further explanation by saying that the conflict is deeply rooted in cattle raiding and the fact that young men are culturally required to pay a bride price in cattle.
While the fighting is currently at a standstill, threats of genocide are pervasive in the area and many fear a reprisal of violence. South Sudan is on the precipice of a humanitarian disaster, as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been launching border attacks for months, killing civilians and members of the armed forces alike.