Women and children are being increasingly targeted in the escalating attacks against communities in Southern Sudanese states, exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation, say officials.
"We have seen a drastic escalation in violence across Southern Sudan this year - from the Equatorial States besieged by LRA [rebel Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army] attacks, to the brutal clashes in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Lake States," Jonathan Whittall, head of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Southern Sudan, said.
"The violent clashes are different to the traditional 'cattle rustling' that normally occurs each year," he said in a 3 September statement. "Women and children, usually spared in this fighting, are now deliberately targeted and the number of deaths [is] higher than the number of wounded."
On 1 September, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak of the Episcopal Church said the church no longer viewed the clashes as "tribal conflicts", but rather as "deliberately organized attack[s] on civilians by those that are against the peace in Southern Sudan".
At least 140,000 people have been displaced by clashes between communities in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Lake States. Separate attacks by the LRA in the Equatorial states have also reportedly forced 65,000 Sudanese from their homes this year.
"This combination of violent attacks across the region aggravates an already dire humanitarian situation for the people of Southern Sudan," MSF warned.
In the latest attack, 42 people were reported killed in a 29 August clash between communities in Twic East County, Jonglei State. More than 60 were wounded and 24,000 displaced from 17 villages, mainly in Panyangor and Kongor.
"In the last six violent incidents that MSF responded to in Jonglei and Upper Nile States over the last six months... 1,057 people were killed in contrast to 259 wounded, with more than 60,000 displaced," the medical charity said. "This is new - the intention is to attack a village and to kill. The result is a population living in total fear, with significant humanitarian and medical needs."
food aid (file photo): Poor rainfall, insecurity and high cereal and
low livestock prices have created an urgent food security situation in
Continuing violence, the Archbishop warned, could damage the smooth implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), under whose auspices elections are being planned for 2010 and a referendum on possible Southern autonomy in 2011.
"The timeframe given for the elections and referendum is already too short for the democratic processes to be effectively organized, and by the provisional dates chosen for voting... much of the South will already be suffering from logistics problems caused by the onset of the wet season," he warned in a statement.
"This is an indication to the citizens of the Sudan that the people on the ground are not being regarded or included in the politics of peace and that we are vulnerable to future violations of the CPA and an uncertain future for peace in the Sudan."
Separately, the UN World Food Programme warned that an urgent food security situation had been created in the region by poor rainfall, continued high levels of insecurity and high cereal and low livestock prices.
According to the recently released Annual Needs and Livelihood Assessment Mid-Year Review, about 1.5 million people in Southern Sudan face severe food insecurity, while aid delivery has been complicated by insecurity and poor roads.