When the attackers reached a village nearby, they shot Nyandit Allan, 28, twice in her left leg and again in the face, then slit the throats of her two stepsons. “They were singing as they left,” said Allan, who is now recuperating in a clinic.
Six months after celebrating independence, the world’s newest nation is grappling with a virus of tribal violence. In many ways, the inevitable has happened, as ethnic and political tensions exploded after being suppressed by the promise of separation from the north, after a decades-long war against rulers in Khartoum.
The United States and its allies have spent billions to help South Sudan become a stable, pro-Western pillar in a region plagued by terrorism and militant Islam. But now the intensifying attacks have ignited tribal violence and threaten to undermine a government already facing a long list of daunting challenges.
Stopping the violence “would demand a very, very significant military operation, and the government also would have to move significant forces to make that happen,” said Hilde Johnson, the head of the U.N. mission in South Sudan.
The state of Jonglei has long been gripped by poverty, ethnic and political tensions, a massive influx of weapons and a history of cattle raiding between the Nuer and Murle tribes. Last year, the United Nations documented 208 attacks that displaced more than 90,000 people.
But the current bloodletting appears far more vicious and widespread. Once, only cattle camps were raided. Now, entire villages and towns are being razed, infrastructure destroyed.
“Our clinic is full of women and children,” said Karel Janssens, field coordinator for the aid agency Doctors Without Borders in the town of Pibor, where many of the wounded have sought refuge.
Torn apart by revenge
Since the attacks by the Lou Nuer, a subgroup, on this area in late December and early January, the Murle have risen up. They have marauded Nuer areas across Jonglei. Two weeks ago, 47 people were killed in the village of Duk Padiet. Aid agencies have launched a massive humanitarian effort to help those harmed by the raids, which the United Nations now numbers 120,000 people.
On Dec. 17, a Nuer militia known as the White Army announced that it would protect the Nuer population and their cattle from the Murle because the government was not doing enough.
The militia, which has a fundraising and media arm in the United States, said it was also seeking revenge for the massacre of 700 Nuer by Murle warriors in August, a month after South Sudan declared independence.
In a telephone interview, Gai Bol Thong, a Nuer spokesman who lives in Seattle, said his group had raised $45,000 from supporters in the United States and Canada for food and other “humanitarian” needs of the fighters.