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South Sudan army denies participation in Jonglei conflict

December 29 (JUBA) - South Sudan’s army on Thursday dismissed reports claiming that it participated in tribal clash involving two rivalling ethnic communities in Jonglei State’s Pibor County.

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Lou Nuer youth leader speaking in Linkuangole, Jonglei state. 28 Dec. 2011 (ST)

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Monday said its air patrols identified thousands of armed Lou Nuer youths preparing to attack communities of the Murle tribe near Likuangole in Jonglei.

"I am deeply concerned to learn of reports of this imminent large scale attack on civilians in Jonglei state," Hilde Johnson, head of the UNMISS said in a statement.

"The government must act now if we are to avert a major tragedy."

South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar, Minister of Justice, John Luk Jok, and local MPs have visited the area in an attempt to diffuse tensions and persuade the Luo Nuer youth not to attack the Murle.

On Wednesday a group calling itself Jikany and Lou Nuer White Army issued a statement vowing to "eliminate the entire Murle tribe on the face of the earth", claiming it was the way guarantee the end ongoing cattle theft between the two tribes.

The Luo Nuer youths accuse the neighbouring Murle ethnic group of raiding their cattle and killing members of their tribe. Despite a 2005 peace accord ending two decades of civil war, which subsequently led to South Sudan’s independence in July this year, cattle raiding between rival groups has killed thousands in the last seven years.

“Neither the UN nor the SPLA have protected the Nuer, the group alleged.

”We the Nuer Youth have decided to fight the Murle, SPLA and the UN," it said, claiming it had killed 80 SPLA soldiers fighting alongside the rivalling Murle tribe.

Responding to the situation Johnson said the primary responsibility for protecting civilians lies with the government in Juba. However, UNMISS have reinforced its peacekeepers in Jonglei while conducting continuous air patrols to deter potential violence.

Inter-communal violence has already affected "so many civilians, “she said, calling for reconciliation.

"Time is now running out and the government needs to redouble its efforts to prevent a tragedy and avert large-scale violence. All South Sudanese people must now put peace and stability in their new and independent country above any other concerns and interests," Johnson said.

In August and September Murle raids on the Luo Nuer in Jonglei state claimed around 700 lives, the UN estimates. The attack is believed to have been in response to a Luo Nuer attack on the Murle that killed hundreds according to local sources.

Johnson said at the time the raids involved "army-like" movements of people with new weapons and satellite phones. "So this is not normal cattle rustling," she said.

However, SPLA spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer told Sudan Tribune on Thursday dismissed reports that some members of the country’s army were killed while fighting for Murle.

He accused north Sudan of arming and supporting some tribes and rebel groups in order to destabalise South Sudan. Khartoum has always been quick to deny this and counters that Juba is supporting rebels within its own territory.

Jonglei’s governor, Kuol Manyang Juuk, in an interview with The Citizen newspaper on Wedneday denied reports that the SPLA fought alongside Murle. He also denied the existence of the a new Nuer ’white army’ in the state.

The UN’s Secretary-General said 28 December that he was deeply concerned about tensions in South Sudan between Lou Nuer and Murle communities but commended Juba’s efforts to calm the situation and ensure that vulnerable civilians are protected.

The top UN official called on the leadership of Luo Nuer and Murle to put an end to violence and to ’work with the Government toward a long term solution to the root causes of the hostilities’.