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Scarce Resources, Politics at Root of South Sudan Violence, Says Minority Rights Group

The political and economic conditions of ethnic groups in South Sudan are main causes of violence that has displaced some 50,000 people in the Jonglei state over the past week, says an international minority rights group. Long-lasting measures taken by the government are needed to alleviate the situation and prevent future incidents.

Last week, the Lou Nuer ethnic group reportedly stormed the town of Pibor in the Jonglei state, in the eastern part of the country, home to many members of the Murle ethnic group. Fighting between these two pastoral tribal groups has reportedly escalated since the country gained independence from Sudan in July 2011. Ethnic tensions in the region have flared as tribes fight over grazing lands and water rights, leading to cattle raids and the abduction of women and children, local media report.

The United Nations sent a battalion of peacekeepers to the area last week, while as many as 50,000 people fled the city into the bush areas, and have been experiencing shortages of food and drinking water, while many were also wounded, according to CNN.

Government officials and aid groups have been struggling to gain access into the embattled region, CNN reported. Currently, people are reportedly slowly coming out of hiding and returning to their homes, which can be potentially dangerous, as the situation is still unstable in the region, according to the U.N.

"Hundreds of people are returning to the town from the bush. They are highly vulnerable and they need help," U.N. humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan Lise Grande said in a statement, as CP reported Wednesday. "A massive emergency operation is going to be needed in the weeks ahead to help people uprooted by the violence.”

The government has declared Jonglei state a "humanitarian disaster area," CNN reported Friday.

But what the government really needs to do is come up with long-term provisions that could alleviate the conflict overtime and prevent future incidents, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG), an advocacy group. In the long term, the government must also address the root causes of violence among minority communities, and those are political representation, disarmament and equitable distribution of natural resources, the organization said in a statement emailed to CP.

"Competition between ethnic groups over scarce resources has escalated in South Sudan. At the same time there is a security vacuum, leading to the formation of militia groups and a breakdown of traditional structures of authority,’ Chris Chapman, MRG’s Head of Conflict Prevention said the statement. ‘This will continue to threaten the stability of the new nation, unless the government acts quickly to ensure security, inclusive representation for all communities, and equitable access to land and natural resources."

The attacks, which on the face of it appear to be cattle raids, have deeper underlying causes related to poverty, competition for scarce resources and the ubiquity of small arms left over from a decades-long war and marginalization of ethnic minorities, Chapman said. In addition, the conflict between the Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic groups is taking on a dynamic of repeated revenge attacks.

According to MRG’s 2011 research, some minority groups feel that their interests are not being represented within the South Sudanese political system, and that resources have been diverted to more populous ethnic groups, rendering them poorer with more precarious access to land and natural resources than other communities.

In resource-scarce East Africa, minority groups face major challenges over the control of and access to land and other natural resources, claims the organization's 2011 report, "Land, livelihoods and identities: Inter-community conflicts in East Africa." Despite national policy regimes that are developing in a positive direction, the reality for minority groups and their neighboring ethnic groups is that land and natural resources continue to be a major trigger of violence.

South Sudan became the world’s newest country in July 2011. The United Nations had to send 7,000 troops and 900 police to help ensure peace in the formerly war-ravaged nation as it transitioned into statehood. The split was initially caused by differences in religion with the North being mostly comprised of Muslims and the South being made up of Christians and Animists.

Over recent years, South Sudan has increasingly sought independence to escape from being ruled by Islam’s strict Shariah law.

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