Ethiopia has declared war on South Sudanese bandits who it claims crossed the border into Ethiopia on Saturday, April 16, where they killed at least 140 civilians and abducted 36 children.
Confirming the incident on Sunday, Ethiopia’s Minister for Communication Getachew Reda claimed that the attackers came from neighboring South Sudan’s Murle tribe. The minister also confirmed that Ethiopian troops are currently pursuing the gunmen and have already managed to kill 60 of them.
“Ethiopian troops are pursuing the bandits inside South Sudan. Sixty of the assailants have been killed so far,” said the minister.
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According to Reda, the Saturday attack, which happened in Gambella region, had nothing to do with the ongoing civil war in South Sudan between government forces and rebels.
South Sudanese officials are yet to issue an official statement regarding the incident.
Earlier Conflicts in Gambella Region
The Gambella region, which is located southwest of Ethiopia, marks the border between South Sudan and Ethiopia, and is occupied by two main communities, namely; Nuer (South Sudanese) and Anyuak (Ethiopian).
For many years, the two communities have cohabited in peace until earlier this year, when deadly clashes between the two communities erupted. According to Sudan Tribune, a Sudanese news outlet, the violence started in the area’s capital, Gambella, and spread to other parts of region, leaving an unknown number of people dead.
It is still not clear what triggered the deadly violence in January 2016. Some residents claim that the Anyuak were on a revenge mission for one of their own who was allegedly killed by Nuer warriors in October 2015, for allegedly trying to steal cows in Nuer village, which is about 40 kilometers from Gambella town.
The governor of Gambella, Gatluak Tut Khot is reported to have toured the area on a peace mission, during which time he asked the two ethnic communities to adopt policies of peaceful coexistence.
Members of the Nuer community, who are mainly pastoralists, have previously been accused of crossing over the Ethiopian border to steal cattle and chicken and raise them as their own.
South Sudanese Refugees in Ethiopia
According to UNHCR, about 300,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from South Sudan currently reside in Gambella. The number is expected to increase if the ongoing civil unrest in South Sudan does not end soon.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, former US ambassador to Ethiopia Professor David Shinn said that the conflict in South Sudan is largely the cause:
“The conflict in South Sudan has resulted in refugees moving into Ethiopia. Rebel groups can also move across Gambella region. It is not surprising there are occasional local outbreaks of violence in this area,” Prof. Shinn said.