Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn confirmed 108 children are being held hostage, in his first statement since the attack by Sudan Sudanese armed men.

A heavily armed group from the Murle tribe of South Sudan attacked several districts of Gambella region Friday at dawn.

At least 182 Ethiopians – mostly from Nuer ethnic group, in Jikawa, Lare and Mekoy Woreda(districts) were killed, while several dozen have been injured.

In a brief statement this evening, the Prime Minister said, most of the people killed on Friday were women and children. 108 children are still held by the attackers.

In an apparent response to criticisms on border security, Hailemariam Desalegn said, although cross-border raid by the Murle tribe is not unusual, the scale of the latest attack was unprecedented.

The Premier claimed the raids by the Murle tribe are driven by “traditional backwards beliefs”.

A detachment of the army is hunting the attackers “following them wherever they may go” to rescue the abducted children and “take appropriate measures”, the Prime Minister said.

The PM indicated the army killed “many of the attackers” so far, adding that the details will be disclosed in the future as need be.

Government officials stated yesterday that at least 60 alleged perpetrators of the attacks have been killed.

The Prime Minister said his government has ascertained neither the government of Salva Kiir nor the rebel group led by Riek Machar were involved in the attacks. Therefore, he added, he will work in concert with them to strengthen security.

“We are requesting permission to conduct joint operations in border areas”, the premier said, even if it is understood that the army is already inside South Sudan territory.

Local people told Horn Affairs, similar attacks attributed to the Murle tribe cost dozens of lives in the past few weeks alone, including areas inhabited by the Agnua ethnic group. Last week, at least 16 were killed after the Murle raided an Agnua populated Woreda.

There is no official statement from the Ethiopian National Defence Forces so far.

Map - South Sudan and Gambella Ethiopia
Map – South Sudan and Gambella Ethiopia

Correction: The President of Gambella’s regional government made a brief statement on Sunday. An earlier version of this post erroneously claimed otherwise.

Daniel Berhane

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