At least 32 people, including children, have been killed during armed raids in South Sudan’s eastern Jonglei state, according to the United Nations.
The attacks on Dungrut and Machined villages on Sunday sent civilians from the Dinka Bor community fleeing as armed youths from the Murle ethnic group opened fire and torched property.
Among the dead were three children who drowned in a river while trying to escape, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said in a statement on Tuesday.
At least 26 people were wounded and others remain unaccounted for two days after the bloodshed in the Baidit locality.
“UNMISS strongly condemns any attack on civilians and urges groups and individuals to take immediate action to avoid further escalations that will endanger vulnerable people,” it said.
“The Mission further calls on authorities to carry out timely investigations and that the perpetrators be held accountable.”
Oil-rich South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in June 2011 but has been engulfed in ethnic violence since December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir began battling those loyal to his deputy, Riek Machar.
The brutal civil war that ensued killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions. Numerous attempts at peace failed, including a deal that saw Machar return as vice president in 2016 only to flee months later amid renewed fighting.
A second peace deal signed in 2018 has largely held, with warring parties forming a coalition government in 2020 and Kiir and Machar trying – for the third time – to run the country as president and vice president.
But the government has failed to achieve many reforms – including completing the unification of the army command, graduating a unified force and reconstituting the Transitional National Legislative Assembly – prompting warnings by the UN and others that the peace agreement is at risk of collapse if key pillars of the accords remain unfulfilled.
More than 700 people were killed and others were raped and kidnapped in Jonglei between January and August 2020 in armed raids by ethnic militias.
A UN investigation found political and military elites played a role in the violence in which militias razed villages in coordinated attacks on their rivals, using machetes, machine guns and sometimes rocket-propelled grenades.
The UN’s special envoy to South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, told the Security Council in December that the number of civilian casualties from local violence across the country had roughly halved in 2021 compared with the previous year.
But instability remains pervasive, and the coalition government has failed to stop armed violence or punish those responsible nearly two years after taking power in the capital, Juba.