KAMPALA, Uganda — Some 200 civilians have been wounded in ongoing clashes between rival tribes in South Sudan's largest state, according to a United Nations official who is urging the central government and local officials to stop "the cycle of violence" that has killed many people and displaced thousands.
The most critically wounded are now being treated in the capital of Jonglei state, where there is a rebel insurgency against the central government, Toby Lanzer, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, said in a statement late Sunday.
The mix of ethnic clashes and a military assault against rebels in Jonglei has attracted the attention of humanitarian workers who have had little or no access to the area. On Sunday aid groups were able to get to Pibor — the county in Jonglei that is the epicenter of violence — for the first time this year.
Lanzer's statement said fighting in Pibor has forced thousands to flee into the bush. It urged all the warring groups to "ensure that aid organizations continue to have impartial, unconditional and unhindered access to civilians in need throughout the state."
South Sudan's army spokesman, Col. Philip Aguer, said the Murle and Lou Nuer tribes constantly clash over cattle thefts, conflicts that date back to the colonial era and which he said are hard to police. Aguer has described the clashes as a "communal" issue that cannot be resolved by military action.
"The government of South Sudan is struggling to encourage dialogue among the communities," Aguer said.
South Sudan's army is also in Pibor county battling a rebel militia led by a renegade colonel named David Yau Yau. Aid workers and rights groups have accused both the South Sudanese military and Yau Yau's rebel group of abusing civilians and denying them access to humanitarian assistance. The U.S. Embassy in South Sudan has criticized the central government for not doing more to stop the ethnic clashes.
Instability in Jonglei and South Sudan as a whole is due in part to easy access to weapons. A government disarmament campaign launched in Jonglei last year ended up boosting insecurity and was accompanied by abuses against civilians, according to a United Nations report released last year.