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Sudanese fighters ambush food aid

AT least 40 south Sudanese soldiers and civilians were killed when tribal fighters ambushed boats carrying United Nations food aid, the latest in a string of ethnic attacks threatening a fragile peace deal, officials said yesterday.

Members of the Jikany Nuer group opened fire on 27 boats loaded with emergency rations destined for an area controlled by the rival Lou Nuer tribe on Friday, the UN World Food Program said.

Hundreds have been killed and more than 135,000 displaced in south Sudan in 2009 in a surge of tribal killings rooted in long-standing feuds over cattle but aggravated by political discontent and weapons left over from two decades of civil war.

One UN source said Friday's attack was thought to be the first time south Sudanese soldiers had suffered significant casualties in the tribal clashes. "The environment is extremely volatile. There are signs the Lou Nuer may be gearing up for retaliatory attacks," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The minister of information for Upper Nile State Thon Mom said Friday's attack killed at least 40 people including troops from the south's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) escorting the convoy south on the river Sobat to the town of Akobo.

"Women and children who were on the boats were also killed, either directly by bullets or by drowning after jumping into the river," said SPLA spokesman Malaak Ayuen Ajok.

He said the Jikany Nuer fighters had demanded to search some of the barges, south of the settlement of Nasir, suspecting they were carrying arms and ammunition to their Lou Nuer enemy.


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