JUBA, South Sudan – More than 320 people from one community in South Sudan died in ethnic violence last month after thousands of men on foot carried out an attack on two dozen villages that sent tens of thousands of people fleeing into the countryside, an official said Thursday.
Most of the 328 people from the Murle ethnic community killed in the July clashes were women and children, said Jongolei Boyoris, a member of parliament in the Jonglei State Assembly. He said 32 children were abducted.
No central government official confirmed Boyoris' claim. The United Nations also has not released any death tolls from the July battles, which took place in an isolated, under-developed and hard-to-reach part of South Sudan. The Murle and Lou Nuer communities have engaged in a series of cyclical battles in recent years that also involve the theft of tens of thousands of cattle.
While the death toll sounds astoundingly high, it is not without precedent. A U.N. report investigating violence between Jonglei's Murle and Lou Nuer communities in late 2011 and early 2012 found that 612 Murle and 276 Bor Dinka/Lou Nuer died in that bout of ethnic violence.
Col. Philip Aguer, the spokesman for South Sudan's military, said he could not confirm Boyoris' figure and that he was waiting to see details of his report.
Boyoris' figures were collected by a team of county administrators and chiefs who visited 28 villages attacked in the Lou Nuer assault. The majority of those killed were women in a village called Lekla, he said. The women had gone to herd cattle when they were shot by attackers, he said.
Jonglei is the site of multiple conflicts. South Sudan's military has been battling a rebel leader named David Yau Yau who the government says has been supported by Sudan. Yau Yau is also a member of the Murle community.
Aid groups are working to assist what they say are more than 100,000 Murle who have fled their villages and now are living in the countryside, or bush, without access to food or medical assistance.