JUBA, Sudan, Aug 29, 2009 (AFP) - At least 43 people have been killed, including seven soldiers, and dozens wounded in clashes between troops and cattle rustlers in south Sudan, a military spokesman said on Saturday.
Gunmen attacked a small settlement in the Twic East region of Jonglei state early on Friday, said Major General Kuol Diem Kuol, of the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
"The men attacked at the settlement of Wernyol at 5:00 am with guns, coming to take the cattle, and to loot and steal.
"There was only a small police force based in Wernyol, and they were soon overrun, but nearby SPLA platoons heard the shooting and rushed to the area."
Fighting then broke out between around 70 soldiers and the raiders, who are reported to come from the Lou Nuer ethnic group. The people of Wernyol are from the Bor Dinka group.
|A picture taken on June 18, 2009 shows a convoy of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) crossing through a mud track in the southern village of Kashalongo, south of Nyala in southern Darfur (AFP photo)|
"In total there were at least 36 civilians who were killed, and more than 50 were wounded, some seriously," said Kuol.
"In addition there were seven soldiers who died, and three more who were wounded."
It was not immediately clear how many of the raiders died.
"The livestock that was taken was returned back to the people by the soldiers," Kuol added.
"The situation is now calm, and the SPLA have deployed extra units to ensure security is maintained."
Clashes between rival ethnic groups in south Sudan break out frequently -- some sparked by cattle rustling and disputes over natural resources, others in retaliation for previous attacks.
However, a string of recent raids has shocked many, with an apparently sharp increase in attacks on women and children, as well as the targeting of homesteads.
More than 2,000 people have died and 250,000 been displaced in inter-tribal violence across southern Sudan since January, according to the United Nations, which says the rate of violent deaths now surpasses that in the war-torn western region of Darfur.
Last week three Kenyan policemen and several others died in a gun battle with south Sudanese cattle raiders from the Toposa ethnic group who had crossed into Kenya to steal livestock.
Jonglei state was one of the areas hardest hit in Sudan's two-decade-long north-south civil war, which ended in 2005 with a power-sharing deal between the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south.
Authorities struggle to maintain order in the sprawling state, which is the size of Austria and Switzerland combined.
The state remains awash with small arms and there are frequent clashes between rival groups.
Heavy-handed but ineffective disarmament campaigns have left regions at risk of attack from their still armed neighbours.
Under the deal that ended Africa's longest civil war, the south has a six-year transitional period of regional autonomy and takes part in a unity government until the 2011 referendum on self-determination.