On Friday, in the Horn of Africa in Gambella, Ethiopia, gunmen raided and took 2,000 head of livestock and kidnapped 108 children. The assailants were from South Sudan and it would seem they have previously carried out the same types of raids albeit on a smaller scale. The attackers do not have affiliations to either rebel fighters in South Sudan or government fighters.
An armed group attacked the Jakawa area in the Gambella Regional State of Ethiopia on Friday and claimed 208 lives. The death toll had at first been estimated to be around 142 but it has now risen to an unprecedented 208. According to Sudan Tribune, the “massive and coordinated” attack was carried out by combined military and armed civilians from Buma State in South Sudan. Getachew Reda, the Minister of Government Communication Affairs confirmed this piece of information saying the attack was carried out by members of South Sudan’s Murle tribe domiciled in the western state of Jonglei. His office said it would take measures against the perpetrators. On Saturday, the Minister told Al Jazeera that Ethiopian forces had killed 60 of the assailants and were pursuing them.
The attack happened in Gambella, a region which lies on the Ethiopian-South Sudanese border. The region is home to around 272,000 refugees from South Sudan, who fled conflict in their country. After winning independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan descended into a civil war two years later. More than two million people have been displaced over the course of the war. The country has been split along ethnic lines by the conflict. South Sudanese rebel leader, Riek Machar is now set to form a transitional government with his rival, President Salva Kiir as part of a deal signed in August last year.
BBC reports that the Ethiopian army is trying to rescue 108 women and children abducted in the raid. The Prime Minister, Hailemariam Sesalegn said the country was seeking permission to cross the border for a joint military operation with the South Sudanese army. He acknowledged that neither the South Sudanese army nor the rebel forces were involved in the attack. Speaking on State television, he said, “The atrocities committed by an armed Murle tribe from South Sudan claimed the lives of 208.” He added that there had previously been such attacks but Friday’s attack was “massive”. Ethiopian journalists reported the attackers carried AK-47 assault rifles and killed anyone who resisted.
Meanwhile, the return of South Sudanese rebel leader, Riek Machar to the capital, Juba, has been delayed. He will take up the post of Vice-President, a step towards putting an end to no less than two years of civil war. Machar fled Juba in December 2013 when the conflict started. The Head of the rebel negotiating team, Taban Deng, told the BBC that Machar would now be sworn in the evening of Monday and not morning as had been planned. This does not sound loud alarm bells but considering the history of the ceasefire the rebels and State agreed to in August last year. There have been reports of ceasefire violations from both sides and the level of commitment to peace is highly disputable. The government has not responded to the delay as of yet but Deng maintained it was a logistics issue.
Radio Tamazuj reported that officials have been seen at the Juba Airport ahead of the anticipated arrival of Machar. Speaking on State Television, Minister of Information, Michael Makuei said they welcomed Dr Riek Machar and his arrival would mark the beginning of a transitional period in South Sudan. He also said Machar was on his way and would arrive on Monday. The President however, issued a veiled warning saying, “They are coming, yes we have accepted them to come but this should not be construed to mean we have surrendered or have accepted what they are after. The regime change has not changed. They are coming in as part of another strategy.” He said the slogan of “so and so should go” was not something new and those who coined it were coming back. Kiir also alleged “they have been spreading lies and negative propaganda”. It is a wonder just how the union will work out as it seems both parties are not as reformed as the world would expect. They still handle each other with suspicion and this might be a sign that the Gambella massacre might be the last thing on South Sudanese minds.