JUBA: Gunmen killed at least 51 people in the latest ethnic clashes in South Sudan’s troubled Jonglei state, the region’s governor said Tuesday.
"The whole night (Monday) they burned the town … 51 are confirmed dead and now we have 22 (injured) evacuated to Juba," said Jonglei governor Kuol Manyang.
Armed men stormed the village of Duk Padiet in northern Jonglei late Monday, with most of those killed "women, children and the elderly," Manyang told AFP.
"We are expecting more to be injured because they ran to the villages last night," he said, blaming gunmen from the Murle ethnic group for the attack.
Remote and impoverished Jonglei has seen a dramatic escalation of bloody tit-for-tat attacks between rival ethnic groups over cattle raids and abduction of people.
Newly-independent South Sudan has declared Jonglei a national "disaster area" while the United Nations has launched a "massive emergency" operation to help over 60,000 people affected by the violence.
Last month an 8,000-strong tribal militia of Lou Nuer youths marched on Pibor, to exact revenge on the Murle people there for alleged attacks, abductions and cattle raiding.
Now officials claim the latest violence is the Murle’s response.
One attacker was killed, a suspected Murle man wearing military fatigues, Manyang said.
The village "was attacked by people positively identified as the Murle armed youth," said Philip Thon Leek Deng, the local MP.
Deng said that large herds of cattle had been stolen in a series of raids in the area last week, but the attack Monday targeted people.
"They did not take cattle … they are only coming for annihilation," he said.
The people of Duk Padiet are from the Dinka ethnic group, who are also traditional rivals of the Murle.
Minister of Information Barnaba Marial Benjamin said around 3,000 extra security forces had been deployed in Jonglei, mostly to Murle areas, but now attacks were happening in Nuer and Dinka areas.
"The forces we have taken in cannot cover every area," he said.
Jonglei, an isolated and swampy state about the size of Austria and Switzerland combined has limited mud roads often impassable for months during heavy rains.
Guns are common in the region devastated by two decades of war with northern Sudanese forces, a conflict that paved the way for the South’s independence last July.
The UN says that last year, violence between the two tribes left around 1,100 people dead and tens of thousands displaced in a series of cattle raids involving abductions of women and children.