(Corrects sourcing in second paragraph for story published on Dec. 8.)
Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) -- At least 40 people were killed in ethnic clashes in South Sudan’s Jonglei state, where more than 1,000 people have died this year in disputes over cattle, the United Nations said.
The UN Mission in South Sudan dispatched an assessment team to the region after reports that the town of Jalle was attacked on Dec. 5, Kouider Zerrouk, deputy spokesman for the mission, said in a phone interview from Juba, South Sudan’s capital. The attackers, reportedly members of the Murle ethnic group, burned more than 100 homes, killed children and stole cattle, the UN News Center reported.
“The clashes are extremely severe,” Zerrouk said. “According to reports, more than 40 people were killed and others injured.” Some victims were evacuated by air to the hospital in Juba, he said.
Jonglei, a western state that borders Ethiopia, has been a flashpoint for clashes between rival ethnic groups as well as between rebel militia and government forces. While the state has been plagued by cattle rustling in the past, the Murle and Lou Nuer ethnic groups carried out two separate raids in August that killed about 600 people, wounded 850 and displaced 26,000, according to the UN.
Most of Jonglei is covered by Block B, an unexploited oil concession in which Paris-based Total SA holds a 32.5 percent stake. Total signed and exploration and production-sharing agreement in 1980 with the government in Khartoum, capital of what was then a united Sudan. South Sudan, which declared independence July 9, has said it plans to begin renegotiating contracts early next year with non-producing oil companies.
After the August attacks, the Sudan Council of Churches initiated a series of meetings that brought people together in Murle and Lou Nuer towns to air their grievances. The peace process was meant to culminate in a Dec. 12-14 meeting of leaders from both ethnic groups who would sign a peace agreement.
James Ninrew, a Presbyterian minister and member of the Nuer Peace Council who has been involved in the peace process, said the meeting is unlikely to take place as scheduled in the wake of this week’s violence.
“It’s actually a very great setback,” he said by phone from Juba. The conflict may be exploited by George Athor, a former army commander who rebelled after losing the election for state governor and who now heads an anti-government militia, Ninrew said.
“Unfortunately, this will be an opportunity for Athor to gain ground,” said Ninrew. “It will be a chance for him to attract those who want arms and those who want to fight.”
For Related News & Information: On South Sudan’s Oil Industry: TNI SOUTHSUDAN OIL <GO> Top Regional Stories: AFTO <GO> Most- Read Africa News: MNI AFRICA <GO>
--Editors: Paul Richardson, Heather Langan
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