By Leigha Wentz,
International News Editor
A week after a series of devastating border attacks, Ethiopian forces report that they have entered South Sudan in an attempt to locate over 100 kidnapped children.
According to Deutsche Wells, the Ethiopian army claims that it has surrounded the area where it believes the kidnapped children are being held. Speaking on Friday, April 22, a spokesperson for the Ethiopian government claimed that the children would soon be rescued, although many Ethiopians remained skeptical following the announcement.
The rescue mission comes after an attack on Friday, April 15 in which South Sudanese militants crossed the border into Ethiopia in an apparent cattle raid. 208 people were killed in more than a dozen villages, and an additional 100 children kidnapped from villages in the province of Gambella. These attacks and kidnappings were done by members of the Murle ethnic group, according to the Ethiopian government.
Shortly after the attack, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced that Ethiopia had asked permission to enter South Sudan to locate the attackers and the abducted children. According to the BBC, Peter Bashir Gbandi, the acting Foreign Minister of South Sudan, travelled to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Friday to further coordinate with the Ethiopian government.
Cattle raids are common occurrences on the Ethiopian and South Sudanese border, although last Friday’s attack was more violent than usual. Hallelujah Lulie, an analyst for the Institute for Security and Studies in Addis Ababa told Deutsche Wells that the number of people killed in the attack was unexpected.
“In the past, cattle raids had nothing to do with politics, it was mostly a cultural thing,” he said, as quoted by Deutsche Wells. “But there has been a criminalization of these activities because of the involvement of some business people in the cattle raiding.”
Lulie added that the ongoing civil war in South Sudan has led to an increase in violence due to an increase in the distribution of weapons in the area.
Ethiopia has long been a major force in peace negotiations between rival South Sudanese leaders President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka community, and Riek Machar, who belongs to the Nuer tribe. Machar is currently living in Addis Ababa and, as of this past week, has delayed his return to the South Sudanese capital of Juba for the third time, thereby putting increased strain on negotiations.
Residents of Gambella held demonstrations on Thursday, April 21 calling for better security and justice in the wake of the attacks.
The BBC reports that one woman whose husband was killed in the attacks does not believe that her three missing children will be recovered from the attackers.“I don’t know if they were killed during the crossfire,” she told the BBC. “The fighting was intense and if they survived, they will probably be killed by the Murles.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 26th print edition.
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