UN: South Sudan Fighting Targets Women, Children

Fighting between tribes in southern Sudan
has increasingly targeted women and children and likely killed more
than 1,000 people since January, a senior U.N. official said
Wednesday.

Sudan's south is still grappling with the legacy of one of
Africa's longest and bloodiest civil wars. The two-decade battle
between ethnic African southerners and Sudan's Arab-dominated
government in the northern capital, Khartoum, killed an estimated 2
million people.

Tension between heavily armed tribes in the south has grown as
competition for scarce water and pasturage has increased. Clashes
that began early this year have intensified and gone beyond
traditional cattle raids to include attacks on civilians.
"Horrendous" attacks have targeted large numbers of women and
children, said David Gressly, the U.N.'s regional coordinator for
southern Sudan.

Gressly said the fighting has become widespread and now includes
the south's 10 states, covering the entire south.

"Some news media accounts about that violence have spoken of
more than 1,000 deaths since the beginning of this year, and while
UNMIS is unable to verify independently that figure, we believe
such estimates to be credible," Gressly told a news conference in
Khartoum. UNMIS is the U.N. mission in southern Sudan.

If violence continues at the rate of the last few months, the
fighting over cattle and territory is on pace to claim more lives
this year than Sudan's separate conflict in the western region of
Darfur, now in its sixth year.

In June, another U.N. official, John Holmes, the
undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said around 30,000
people had been displaced in the south.

Making the situation more explosive, the civilian population in
the south remains heavily armed after the years of war, and more
powerful weapons, such as rocket-propelled grenades, have
proliferated.

Many fear the fighting in the south could interfere with the
national and presidential elections to be held next year, and
threaten an already volatile north-south border area where most of
Sudan's oil is concentrated.

Gressly said the new fighting between tribes in the south
threatens to interfere with parliamentary and presidential
elections already delayed twice and now set for April 2010. Those
elections are a key requirement of the 2005 peace deal that ended
the north-south civil war.

Still, the U.N. official said he was optimistic the voting could
go ahead in the south. Sudan is also scheduled to hold a referendum
in January 2011 on whether South Sudan should become independent.

The fighting this year has also disrupted agricultural
production, raising the prospect of a food crisis, Gressly said. He
said an assessment mission was evaluating the food situation.


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