More than 3,000 people were killed in South Sudan in brutal massacres last week in bloody ethnic violence that forced thousands to flee, the top local official in the affected area said yesterday.
“There have been mass killings, a massacre,” said Joshua Konyi, commissioner for Pibor County in Jonglei State.
“We have been out counting the bodies, and we calculate so far that 2,182 women and children were killed and 959 men died.”
UN and South Sudanese army officials have yet to confirm the death toll and the claims from the remote region could not be independently verified.
If confirmed, the killings would be the worst outbreak of ethnic violence ever seen in the fledgling nation, which split from Sudan in July.
About 6,000 rampaging armed youths from the Lou Nuer tribe last week marched on the remote town of Pibor, home to the rival Murle people, who they blame for cattle raiding.
Lou Nuer gunmen attacked Pibor and only withdrew after government troops opened fire.
More than 1,000 children are missing, feared abducted, while tens of thousands of cows were stolen, added Konyi, who comes from the Murle ethnic group.
The UN humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, Lise Grande, said earlier this week that she feared “tens, perhaps hundreds” could have died.
“Yes, there have been casualties, but we do not have the details and cannot at present confirm what the commissioner reports,” said Jonglei State Information Minister Isaac Ajiba.
“We are awaiting reports from our [military] forces on the ground,” South Sudan Army spokesman Philip Aguer said.
Ethnic violence, cattle raids and reprisal attacks left more than 1,100 people dead and forced about 63,000 from their homes last year, according to UN reports based on local authorities and assessment teams.