The archbishop of the Episcopal Church in Sudan says some of the tribal killings in South Sudan are not from cattle raids as reported, but are well-organized attacks against villagers. The archbishop says he fears the militias are being funded by outsiders who wish to to see the South's independence referendum fail.
Juba-based Archbishop Daniel Deng told VOA some of the recent attacks have been executed by well-trained, uniformed militias carrying automatic weapons.
He accuses enemies of Sudan's peace agreement of being behind the killings.
"This is not a tribal fight. It is somebody somewhere organizing these people to disturb the [Comprehensive Peace Agreement]. Those not interested in peace are the ones doing this," he said.
The archbishop warns the peace agreement signed between the North and South could be in danger if the attacks continue escalating. The peace deal calls for national elections to be held next year, followed by a Southern independence referendum in January 2011.
"It is a way of telling the people, 'Well, there is insecurity in the country, so we can not go for elections,'" he added.
A U.N. official in South Sudan says inter-tribal violence had killed 1,200 and displaced 250,000 since January.
Archbishop Deng specifically pointed to a raid late last week in the Wernyol town in Jonglei state in which 40 people were killed, including a church official who was shot at the altar during a morning service.
Media reports have blamed most of the recent violence in the South on traditional cattle raids between tribes. But Archbishop Deng says that these militias ignored the cattle and went straight to the town.
Cattle raids are especially a common annual occurrence between the pastoral tribes in the region. But this year's violence has been markedly more intense than in previous years, especially in Sudan's Jonglei State.
Senior officials of the South's leading party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, have accused Khartoum of arming groups in the South in an attempt to breed inter-tribal conflict and derail the peace timetables. Khartoum has denied the accusations.
The United Nations has also expressed concern the recent insecurity is threatening the viability of conducting safe elections next year. A U.N. official in South Sudan has accused the South's semi-autonomous government of doing little to disarm militias.
The North and South are at continuing odds over the implementation of key pieces of peace agreement signed in 2005. Although the two sides last month signed a U.S.-mediated document ironing out some of their disputes, the two are still bickering over a crucial referendum bill and the results of a national census used to determine regional voting powers.
The secretary general of the South's SPLM has threatened that the South could declare independence unilaterally if the two can not agree on the details of the referendum bill by the end of this year.