Seventeen people were killed in inter-communal clashes in Ngap village in South Sudan’s Lakes State on Wednesday. The killings are the latest in a series of ethnic-based attacks and counterattacks that have left hundreds of people dead and displaced thousands of others, according to the Human Rights Council, a U.N. body documenting human rights violations.
No suspects have been apprehended, Lakes State Police spokesperson Captain Elijah Mabor said. The clashes occurred, he said, in an area inaccessible by road.
Many residents own firearms, and Mabor urged local, state and national governments to conduct a thorough disarmament campaign in Lakes State and other areas of the country where inter-communal fighting is rampant.
“So many attempts that were made before were not comprehensive because the disarmament was done in some parts and other parts still maintained their rifles,” Mabor told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. He added that, despite disarmament efforts, many “may have access to acquire another gun.”
Mabor said cattle may have been stolen during the attack this week, but police have yet to access the area to carry out an investigation and bring perpetrators to justice.
Madol Panther, a member of a peace committee in Cueibet County, where the attack happened, condemned the violence and said communities should learn to coexist peacefully. He believes the government is left with no choice but to forcefully disarm civilians after an earlier voluntary disarmament failed. Peace committees in South Sudan were established so that communities could reconcile their differences and build trust.
However, Panther said, several young men in the area refuse to surrender their weapons because they want to carry out retaliatory attacks.
“Some are saying, ‘We cannot surrender our guns while not taking any revenge because our people have been killed, no arrests have been made, no accountability,” Panther told VOA. “Why do we surrender our guns when the culprits are moving around and no apprehension has been done?’ This is what they are saying on the ground.”
Panther said special forces have been established but have yet to assume their duties as they wait for the governor to approve.
John Chiejuk, a youth leader in Cueibet County, said most of the elites in the surrounding communities have fled to Juba because of the insecurity.
He appealed to Lakes State politicians to return home and find a way to bring an end to the escalating violence.
“Most of the intellectuals of Cueibet County including politicians are in Juba, Wau and Rumbek. They are all scattered. They are no longer here and the only solution for politicians who have run away, they have to come,” Chiejuk told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. “This is their land. They have to come and solve the case.”
Inter-communal fighting in Cueibet County has been ongoing for months. Eleven people were killed in revenge attacks between September and October last year.
According to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, revenge attacks and cattle raids remain the biggest cause of insecurity in the country.
A recent report by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said the country’s humanitarian crisis is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, floods, the highest levels of food insecurity and malnutrition recorded in 10 years, escalating violence, and human rights violations.