Ethiopian troops searching for Murle gunmen and abducted children in Gambella "Shentawa" area

Daniel Berhane

Ethiopian troops are conducting broad area search at two locations close and inside South Sudan, HornAffairs learned from military sources.

The army launched broad area search after South Sudanese gunmen attacked Ethiopia’s western region Gambella last Friday. The gunmen, mostly from Murle tribe, killed 182 people, injured several dozen, and abducted 125 children.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn appeared on the national television on Sunday to confirm a military unit has been dispatched to hunt them “wherever they may go” so as to rescue the abducted children and “take appropriate measures.” Adding that, he was seeking permission from South Sudan “to conduct joint operations in border areas”.

Cabinet Ministers told media, in the weekend, that the military was chasing the attackers inside Sudan and killed at least 60 alleged perpetrators.

Amid mounting public pressure for a progress report, the President of Gambella region said on Wednesday that Ethiopian army have identified and surrounded a location where the abducted children are held. Adding that, the children will be returned to their families once the military operation is complete.

Military sources told Horn Affairs the army is still engaged in a broad area search with the objective of finding the attackers and the children.

The troops are zeroing on two locations where the gunmen are believed to be found.

The first is an area referred to as Shentawa.

According to a local resident, Shentawa should be understood as referring to a broad area, between Jor and Gog Woredas(districts).

Ethiopian troops searching for Murle gunmen and abducted children in Gambella "Shentawa" area
Ethiopian troops searching for Murle gunmen and abducted children in Gambella “Shentawa” area

The second area targeted by the military is the area extending from Tergol, Akobo Woreda, Ethiopia, to Bongak, Pochalla(Jonglei), South Sudan.

It was not immediately clear how deep the military went inside South Sudanese territory.

Ethiopian troops searching South Sudan border areas for Murle gunmen and abducted children
Ethiopian troops searching South Sudan border areas for Murle gunmen and abducted children

The areas are described as “mostly forestry and swampy”.

It was not immediately clear why the attackers would have stayed in Ethiopian territory as the military reached the area several hours after their raid.

Locals hypothesized that the Murle might have set up their own route through the jungle since they routinely raid the area. However, previous raids are incomparable to Friday’s attack in terms of magnitude and efficiency.

Estimate of the number of the attackers’ involved in last Friday’s attack ranges from a few hundreds to thousands. They were mostly from Murle tribe, though some from Dinka tribe might have joined them.

According to official reports, they entered into Gambella through several routes around 5am in the morning and attacked more than a dozen villages in three Woredas located hundreds of kilometers deep.

The victims of last Friday’s attack were mostly from the Ethiopian Nuer tribe. However, at least 16 Anuak were killed in a week earlier, locals told HornAffairs.

Some claim the number of abducted children, which is reported as 125, includes those abducted in earlier raids.

Locals are pessimist about the possibility of rescuing the children alive.

Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) made no official statement regarding last Friday’s attack or the ongoing operation so far.

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Read previous news on the Gambella archive.