MSF Facilities, Staff Affected by Tribal Violence in South Sudan

Tribal violence in a remote area of South Sudan has caused facilities run by the international medical relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders/MSF) to cease operation and over 100 local MSF staffers to flee into the surrounding countryside.

Tribal violence in a remote area of South Sudan has caused facilities run by the international medical relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders/MSF) to cease operation and over 100 local MSF staffers to flee into the surrounding countryside.

According to Agence France-Presse, the violence began in late December when 6,000 armed youngsters from the Lou Nuer tribe attacked the town of Pibor in Jonglei State to extract vengeance on the local Murle people, whom the attackers blame for cattle raids. The dispute between the two tribes has caused over 1,000 deaths in recent months, though the current outbreak of violence has been snuffed out by the arrival of several thousand South Sudanese troops.

During the violence, an MSF clinic in the village of Lekongele was attacked on December 27, and a small MSF hospital in the town of Pibor was attacked on December 31. A third MSF clinic, in the nearby village of Gumruk, appears to have been unaffected. The three facilities are the only health care providers for over 60 miles and serve the 160,000 residents of Pibor County.

On December 23, before the outbreak of violence, 10 international MSF staffers were relocated from the area, and 156 local staffers were advised to seek refuge elsewhere. According to an MSF press release, the organization has made contact with some of these local staffers, but many are out of reach, thought to be with family members. “Their precise whereabouts are unknown and we are deeply concerned about their safety,” reads the press release.

On December 28, an MSF team visited the village of Lekongele and reported that it had been “razed to the ground” and reduced to a “ghost town” with inhabitants having fled to the surrounding country. “Thousands of people have fled for their lives in Lekongole and Pibor in the last week and are now hiding in the bush, frightened for their lives,” said Parthesarathy Rajendran, MSF head of mission in South Sudan. “They fled in haste and have no food or water, some of them doubtless carrying wounds or injuries, and now they are on their own, hiding, beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance.”

The country of South Sudan was established last July as the result of a peace agreement with its northern neighbor, Sudan, after a civil war that lasted decades. Tensions between the two countries remain, though this recent strife is a reminder that the young country faces serious internal challenges as well.

MSF has been present in the area that is now South Sudan for the last three decades, providing medical care to anyone who needs it. In addition to the recent attacks, MSF medical facilities elsewhere in Jonglei State were looted and burned last August. MSF subsequently treated well over 100 wounded people in the area and says that it hopes to resume operations in the recently affected areas as soon as possible to attend to the local people’s need for emergency care.