At least 37 people were killed in South Sudan in a shoot-out at a peace meeting on Wednesday to resolve disputes about stolen cattle, officials have revealed.
According to the AFP, local officials from the states of Unity, Lakes and Warrap had been brought by the UN to the remote Unity town of Mayendit in an attempt to quell interethnic tensions and bring a halt to a spate of cattle raids.
A particularly brutal attack last week in Warrap state saw 74 people killed, the BBC reported. More than 70,000 head of cattle were stolen, leaving 40,000 people without a livelihood, according to Bloomberg.
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According to the UN, four trucks of gunmen arrived at Wednesday’s discussions after a row erupted when one speaker interrupted another. The gunmen — who reportedly comprised rival bodyguards, police, soldiers, and government wildlife officers, sprayed the meeting room with bullets.
“The fight just started there and no one knew the cause,” Lakes state governor Chol Tong Mayay said, after collating accounts from witnesses. “People were just shooting at each other, without knowing whose police and army they were.”
The UN officials were evacuated from the building as they came under fire, with one staff member wounded during the attack.
The wounded official is now “fine,” Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, told reporters yesterday from the capital Juba.
She added that the UN will continue to work towards securing reconciliation in the wake of the attack, according to Bloomberg.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos voiced concern yesterday at the scale and brutality of the violence that has plagued newly-independent South Sudan in recent months.
Last month ethnic clashes in Jonglei state saw a militia army of around 8,000 youths steal tens of thousands of cows and carry out horrific massacres, beating babies against trees and hacking women with machetes, The New York Times reported.
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