August 4, 2009 / 11:46 PM / 10 years ago

U.N. council condemns deadly attack in south Sudan

* 185 people killed, mostly women and children

* Attack is latest in series of ethnic clashes

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Members of the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday condemned an attack in southern Sudan by heavily armed tribal fighters on a rival group that killed some 185 people, mostly women and children.

"The council members condemn these grave attacks, especially the targeting of women and children using sophisticated weaponry," Britain’s U.N. Ambassador John Sawers, president of the Security Council for August, told reporters.

The Sunday morning raid was the latest in a series of bloody ethnic clashes.

Men from the Murle ethnic group attacked a camp in the Akobo area of the region’s swampy Jonglei state, where oil exploration is underway, south Sudanese officials said.

Sawers said the council supported efforts by local authorities, the government of South Sudan and the U.N. mission in the region "to investigate the causes of the violence, to prevent retaliatory attacks and to reconcile the communities."

He said U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told the 15-nation council behind closed doors that 185 people had been killed in the attack.

"There is a degree of urgency now in preventing this spiral of violence which is affecting southern Sudan and, if continued, could have a political effect on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement," Sawers said.

That agreement, signed in 2005, ended a 22-year civil war between Sudan’s Muslim north and its mostly Christian south.

Southern Sudanese officials said most of the victims in the attack were from the Lou Nuer group, locked in a tribal war with the Murle that has already claimed more than 700 lives this year in attacks and counter-attacks.

Analysts say the extensive targeting of women and children, and the number of dead, mark a worrying new development in this year’s violence.

The south’s President Salva Kiir has blamed political agitators whom he said want to show that the south cannot run itself ahead of a promised 2011 southern referendum on separation from northern Sudan.

Disputes, many sparked by cattle rustling, have been exacerbated by a ready supply of arms left over from the civil war and political disaffection over the slow pace of development in the region.

South Sudanese and U.N. officials had hoped the recent onset of the region’s rainy season would reduce the violence, as heavy downpours restricted access to remote villages. But there has been less rain than usual this year and the violence has continued. (Editing by Xavier Briand)

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