The United Nations urged South Sudan to protect civilians after its air patrols detected thousands of members of the Lou Nuer ethnic group preparing to attack on Murle communities in the eastern Jonglei state.
“I am deeply concerned to learn of reports of this imminent large-scale attack on civilians in Jonglei state,” Hilde F. Johnson, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “The government must act now if we are to avert a major tragedy.”
The UN said it’s conducting continuous air patrols and sent more peacekeepers to Jonglei, a state bordering Ethiopia that is plagued by ethnic tensions, cattle rustling attacks and anti-government militias. At least 1,000 people have been killed in ethnic clashes in the region this year.
Most of Jonglei is covered by Block B, an unexploited oil concession in which Paris-based Total SA holds a 32.5 percent stake. Attacks by the Murle against Lou Nuer communities in August killed about 600 people, wounded 850 and displaced 26,000, according to the UN.
On Dec. 25, a newly formed group calling itself the Nuer White Army released a statement announcing its intention to “wipe out the entire Murle tribe on the face of the earth as the only solution to guarantee long-term security of Nuer’s cattle.”
The group warned it would also fight UN and South Sudanese forces, which it accused of failing to protect the Nuer from Murle attacks. Murle community leaders made similar claims after a series of cattle raids by the Lou Nuer in April and June killed as many as 730 people, according to the UN.