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UN condemns ethnic violence among S. Sudan refugees in Uganda

June 21, 2018 (KAMPALA) - The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has condemned the ethnic violence in a South Sudan refugee settlement in northwestern Uganda that left four people dead and 19 others injured.

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South Sudanese refugees fleeing violence in their home country wait to be transported to Uganda’s Arua district settlement camp on 6 January 2014 (Photo: AFP/Isaac Kasamani)

In a statement issued on Thursday, UNHCR said it regrets the tragic loss of life that followed a scuffle between two male refugees of Dinka and Nuer tribesmen at Rhino Refugee Settlement in Uganda’s district of Arua on Sunday.

The sporadic violent attacks on refugees by fellow refugees in the subsequent days resulted in four confirmed fatalities, including that of a minor and 19 others injured.

"The acts that caused these deaths and injuries are criminal and the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to book in accordance with the laws Uganda," said Joel Boutroue, UNHCR Representative in Uganda.

The four Dinka tribesmen were killed in clashes with the Nuer following a dispute between two male refugees while watching a World Cup football match on television at a recreational center, according to the Ugandan police.

It’s alleged that one of the males left the center and when he returned he found that the other had taken his seat, prompting a heated argument between the two, which led to the fight that in turn sparked off a series of violent attacks in different villages in the Settlement.

Boutroue cautioned that the misdeeds of a few should not be attributed to an entire community.

"It is telling that such a minor incident should trigger a tragedy of such magnitude. It has created an extremely volatile situation for refugees in Tika Zone who are mostly women and children without the protection of their menfolk," said Boutroue.

"We are following the situation closely and reviewing durable options to maintain peace in the area," he said.

The Uganda government through the Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR has agreed to separate the two communities as a priority in order to prevent the escalation of already high tensions between youth on both sides, according to Boutroue.

"We are also going to work with the communities to promote peace and reconciliation," he said.

More than a million South Sudanese refugees have fled to Uganda since December 2013, UNHCR said.

Fighting broke out in South Sudan in 2013 after President Salva Kiir sacked his deputy, Riek Machar, pitting the country’s two largest ethnic groups against each other in a deadly struggle for supremacy, which has left tens of thousands dead and millions homeless.