At least 140 Ethiopian civilians including women and children have been killed by a group of armed raiders, who, according to the country’s government, crossed from South Sudan and fled back after the atrocity took place.
The attack occurred in Jakawa in Ethiopia’s Gambela region, which straddles the border. The perpetrators were allegedly members of South Sudan’s Murle ethnic group, Ethiopia’s communications minister Getachew Reda said on Saturday.
“140 civilians died in the attack carried out by bandits that crossed from South Sudan,” a statement from the government communications office said. Ethiopian forces have managed to kill 60 attackers and are ready to go further and cross the border to South Sudan to pursue the others.
“The Ethiopian defense force is currently chasing after the perpetrators,” said Reda as quoted by AP. “Our defense forces have so far killed 60 members of the attackers.”
“They haven’t crossed the border [yet], but they will if that’s what it takes,” he told Al Jazeera.
The minister stressed that the assailants had no relation to South Sudan’s army or rebel groups who fought the government during a civil war.
The latest attack is much larger compared to the previous skirmishes, the minister said adding that a number of children were kidnapped and brought to South Sudan.
Ethiopia hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees who had fled the conflict from South Sudan.
David Shinn, a professor of International Relations at George Washington University and former US ambassador to Ethiopia, said the current situation traces its roots to the ethnic conflict originating on both sides of the Ethiopia-South Sudan border.
“The border is porous and movement back and forth between South Sudan and Ethiopia is common,” he told Al Jazeera. “The conflict in South Sudan has resulted in refugees moving into Ethiopia. Rebel groups can also move across Gambela region. It is not surprising there are occasional local outbreaks of violence in this area.”
South Sudan, which itself gained its independence from Sudan in only in 2011, descended into conflict in December 2013 after its President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup and fired him. The incident split the country into two factions. The country’s Dinka’s ethnic groups ended up supporting the president, while a Nuer ethnic group was an ally to Machar.
As a result, a civil war broke out, with the government fighting rebel groups supporting Machar. Both sides committed atrocities, the UN said. The conflict is still ongoing despite of the several peace deals signed by the president and Machar in 2015.
More than 284,000 refugees from South Sudan fled the conflict to Ethiopia and thousands have died in the civil war.
Death Toll Rises to 208, 108 Children Kidnapped
(Reuters) – The death toll from a raid carried out by South Sudanese gunmen in western Ethiopia has risen to 208 people and the assailants kidnapped 108 children, an Ethiopian official said on Sunday.
The attack took place on Friday in the Horn of Africa nation’s Gambela region which, alongside a neighboring province, hosts more than 284,000 South Sudanese refugees who fled conflict in their country.
By Sunday afternoon, the number had risen to “208 dead and 75 people wounded” from 140 a day earlier, government spokesman Getachew Reda told Reuters, adding the assailants had also abducted 108 children and taken 2,000 head of livestock.
“Ethiopian Defense Forces are taking measures. They are closing in on the attackers,” he said.
Getachew did not give further details, but officials in Gambela said on Saturday Ethiopian troops had crossed the border in pursuit of the attackers.
Cross-border cattle raids have occurred in the same area in the past, often involving Murle tribesmen from South Sudan’s Jonglei and Upper Nile regions – areas awash with weapons that share borders with Ethiopia.
Previous attacks, however, were smaller in scale.
The gunmen are not believed to have links with South Sudanese government troops or rebel forces who fought the government in Juba in a civil war that ended with a peace deal signed last year.
South Sudanese officials were not immediately available for comment.
Under pressure from neighboring states, the United States, the United Nations and other powers, South Sudan’s feuding sides signed an initial peace deal in August and agreed to share out ministerial positions in January.