Does cross-border raid signal rise of new armed group in South Sudan?

South Sudan
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/18/16, 01:38 pm

Gunmen from South Sudan raided a town in western Ethiopia over the weekend, killing 208 people and kidnapping 108 children, officials said on Sunday.

The attack took place Friday in Jakawa, in Ethiopia’s Gambela region, where it shares a border with South Sudan. Getachew Reda, Ethiopia’s communications minister, said on Saturday the assailants belonged to South Sudan’s Murle tribe.

“The Ethiopian defense force is currently chasing after the perpetrators,” Reda said. “Our defense forces have so far killed 60 members of the attackers.”

On Sunday afternoon, Reda said the death toll rose to 208 from 140, with 75 people injured. In addition to the kidnapping, Reda told Reuters the attackers took 2,000 head of livestock. Gambela forces said on Saturday that local troops had crossed the border in search of the attackers.

The assailants have no relation to the South Sudanese government or the country’s rebel forces, Reda added. The region has a long-standing history of inter-ethnic tensions between both countries that have involved cattle raids. But Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said the killings and abductions could signal a new turn in the violence.

“Whatever the motivation is behind this, the fact that they crossed over into Ethiopia and conducted these attacks to the level they did has crossed a line, not just literally,” Siegle said. “The worry here is we may be seeing the emergence of more untethered armed groups.”

South Sudan’s civil war began in 2013, with tens of thousands killed in the fighting and more than 2 million others displaced. Ethiopia’s Jakawa area and a neighboring province host more than 284,000 refugees from South Sudan.

Opposing forces in South Sudan signed a UN-brokered peace deal in August but have repeatedly broken it. Rebel leader Rick Machar was expected in Juba, the country’s capital, today to create the transitional government mandated by the deal but postponed his arrival to tomorrow morning. The transitional government has the ability to bring peace to the country and its region only if the leaders are willing, said Brad Brooks-Rubin, director of policy at the Enough Project.

“The people of South Sudan have continued to suffer as this process has been held up by one delay and one issue after another,” Brooks-Rubin said. “On paper there are a lot of good institutions, laws, mechanisms in place that these leaders can build from, so it comes down to the political will of really making it happen and turning away from self-interest.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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