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South Sudan, Ethiopian relations tense after Gambella attack

Deng Machol
The Gambella attack has sparked a heated public debate in South Sudan and Ethiopia amid fears that the diplomatic relations could further deteriorate.
29.04.2016  |  Juba, South Sudan
The ICRC supported hospital in Maiwut in 2015. (photo: ICRC | Yamila Castro)
The ICRC supported hospital in Maiwut in 2015. (photo: ICRC | Yamila Castro)

The region is reportedly tense, with the Ethiopian government saying its forces have crossed into South Sudan to encircle an area where the 102 children are suspected to be held after they were abducted from Gambella.

Media reports indicate that the Ethiopian army has surrounded the area where the children are being held in Boma, authorities in the area confirmed.

“The army has been conducting reconnaissance missions in South Sudan and they have a clear idea of where the children are,” Ethiopia’s Communications Minister Getachew Reda told AFP.

Meanwhile, more than three dozen victims of violence have sought assistance at an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)-supported hospital in Maiwut, according to an article published by the organisation. 

The health facility is now providing medical and surgical care to the wounded of recent attacks near Gambella.

Many of the 39 men, women and children admitted to the hospital are suffering from gunshot injuries as a result of the mid-April clashes along the Ethiopia-South Sudan border.

“The team has been working nonstop to deal with the influx of patients,” said Chiyuki Yoshida, the ICRC hospital project manager in Maiwut. “Overcrowding is a challenge since the hospital also continues to receive people affected by severe malnutrition, malaria and violence occurring elsewhere in South Sudan.”

Maiwut hospital is located in the Upper Nile region about 20 kilometres from Gambella. It is the only medical facility in the region providing surgical and advanced health care to the nearly 80,000 people living there.

South Sudan’s army last week said it has no means to find and bring to justice the South Sudanese attackers, believed to be ethnic Murle, who allegedly massacred 208 civilians, abducted 102 children of the ethnic Nuer community in Ethiopia, and drove away over 2,000 heads of cattle at Jakawa area of Gemballa on April 15.

“We have no information of whereabouts of these abductors. [And] We do not have means to intervene,” Defense Minister, Kuol Manyang Juuk told the Niles shortly after the attack.

Kuol added he feared further deterioration in diplomatic relations if South Sudan’s government fails to apprehend perpetrators and doesn’t return abductees, or if South Sudan doesn’t allow the Ethiopian troops to enter its territory to rescue abductees.

Peter Bashir Gbandi blamed the proliferation of small arms in the hands of the civil population, warning that the new transitional government must act fast to rid the population of illegal arms.

“The government is going to have a daunting task of disarming our civil population because of the proliferation of small arms in the hands of the civil population is immense and if it is not addressed the security challenges will remain,” he said.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on April 17, vowed his government will track down the gun men and rescue abductees, stressing neither South Sudan’s army nor rebel forces were involved in the attack.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 after more than two-decades of civil war that left the population awash with guns.

The country again plunged into conflict in December 2013 over a power struggle between President Kiir and his earlier sacked deputy Riek Machar that escalated into violence, which spread fast across parts of the country. In total tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2.4 million have been displaced from their homes.

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