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South Sudan army accused of killing civilians in Eastern Equatoria.

April 17, 2013 (JUBA) - South Sudan's army has come under increased criticisms from citizens and state government officials over the way it has intervened in separating conflicting communities in Eastern Equatoria state's Budi county.

Eastern Equatoria State in red (in pink the Ilemi Triangle which is disputed with Kenya)

Local authorities and activists in series of interviews with Sudan Tribune on Wednesday said at least eight people including two government soldiers have been confirmed dead while eighteen others, thirteen of whom are government soldiers and five civilians sustained severe injuries. Several others mostly innocent women with children and elderly people have remained missing since Tuesday. Peter Otuho, a local administrative officer claimed government soldiers, allegedly sent to the area to contain security situation and arrest the mastermind of the cattle raiding in which wild life officers were killed on 13 April, showed up on Tuesday 16 April in Kikilai and Lorema villages, Budi County, and indiscriminately started shooting at civilian settlements, resulting into death and loss of properties. "I am in the area as I speak to you at the moment. The situation is pathetic. I can confirm to you that six civilians including two medical doctors and a child are dead. Two [South Sudanese] SPLA soldiers have also died in the process. Thirteen SPLA soldiers and five civilians sustained injuries. Several others, mostly school children are still missing. I have three children who have not returned home since Tuesday. I do not know where they have gone. Just they run away at school when the whole village was on fire", Otuhu told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday. He said medical facilities, schools, shops and houses have either been reduced to ashes as a result of burning or have been looted all together by the government forces during the attack on the villages. "It is really very said to tell you that the population of the three villages of Lorema, Kikilai and Betalado are currently out of their houses hiding either in the bushes or in the hills without food and water", he said. He called on the government to immediately withdraw SPLA forces from the area, as their presence will continue to cause damage while real criminals who carried the attack in Bira village remains at large. "I have never found where the national army supposed to protect civilians against external aggression turn against the same people it supposed to protect and killed them with impunity." South Sudan's army, he said, "has allowed itself to be misused by powerful politicians and tribal leaders against its objectives and duties. The army all over the whole world is supposed to protect civilians against foreign aggression while police enforce law and order, protect properties and prevent civil unrest. Their objectives is to provide adequate security so that the citizens live in peace but not to kill", Otuhu said in exclusive interview on Wednesday He said the attack on the area was a response to the killings of Wildlife Officers and civilians in Bira on Saturday April 13 by the cattle raiders from Budi County. In retaliation, Otuho said, the government of Eastern Equatoria authorises a military operation against the people of Budi County particularly in Kikilai, Lorema and Lotukei. Several battalions, he said, were dispatched to Kikilai and Lorema and the advanced battalion of SPLA arrived in Lorema on Tuesday at around 9.30am local time. The original purpose of the operation, he explained, was to investigate and arrest the suspects behind the killings in Bira, as well as recovering stolen cattle. The local population from had accepted this, Otuho, but were surprised when government forces began indiscriminately shooting in the area. Joseph Lokale, a senior civil servant with the central government in Juba told Sudan Tribune that he had received reports that government soldiers immediately after arriving in Lorema started opening fire at the local population around the Hiria town. "Houses, shops and granaries were burnt down and looted. The only health centre operated by the Diocese of Torit was brought down and destroyed to ashes. Two medical personnel, one of them was my school mate by name Peter Longorio Lopotongu with someone called Weles Aboho, a veterinarian was killed instantly during the attack. Two patients, a woman and a child were also killed. Two more adult visitors from Ngatuba were also killed", Lokale explained on Wednesday. Sudan Tribune was not able to independently verify the claims of the local government officials and several attempts made to reach state authorities failed. Eastern Equatoria state's minister of information, Philip Otuhau, could not be reached on Wednesday but the SPLA's deputy spokesperson, Colonel Kella Duol, confirmed the incident, saying eight people were killed in what he described as a "tribal fighting". Duol said that he had been briefed that "fighting between the two rival communities started yesterday on Tuesday and resumed again today. We do not have full details at the moment but we are told eight people have died. The SPLA forces are not involved. It is a fight between the two communities. The role of the SPLA there is to separate them and contain the situation", Colonel Duol said in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Wednesday. (ST)

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Publication:Sudan Tribune (Sudan)
Geographic Code:6SUDA
Date:Apr 18, 2013
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