January 20, 2012 / 2:27 PM / 8 years ago

U.N. says 120,000 in South Sudan need aid after fighting

South Sudanese who fled the recent ethnic violence carry food aid from a World Food Programme (WFP) distribution centre in Pibor, Jonglei State, January 12, 2012. REUTERS/Hereward Holland

JUBA (Reuters) - Tribal fighting in South Sudan has left 120,000 people in need of emergency food aid, twice the previous estimate, the United Nations said on Friday.

The organization was in a race against time to reach people displaced by fighting between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes in Jonglei state, said U.N. humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan Lise Grande.

The fighting, in which women and children have been targeted, has escalated following tit-for-tat raids to steal cattle. In late December, 6,000 armed Lou Nuer tribesmen attacked the main Murle town of Pibor, killing as many as 2,000 people, according to local authorities.

The United Nations, which says the death toll is likely to be much lower, initially said around 60,000 people needed food aid after fleeing into surrounding bush and seeing many of their grain stores destroyed.

But Grande told a news conference in the South Sudanese capital Juba that the humanitarian situation in Jonglei - an area the size of Bangladesh - was worsening as a result of continued fighting, including attacks on health facilities.

“Only two weeks ago we launched a massive emergency operation to help 60,000 people. As a result of recent attacks, we now estimate that double that number will need help,” Grande said in a statement.

South Sudan became independent in July under a 2005 peace agreement with Khartoum to end decades of civil war. But the government has been struggling to end tribal and rebel violence.

Ravaged by decades of civil war that killed 2 million people, South Sudan is one of the least developed countries in the world. The government is flush with oil revenues but analysts say development is getting only slowly under way.

Reporting by Hereward Holland; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Ben Harding

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