BOR, SOUTH SUDAN —
Violence between two ethnic groups in South Sudan’s Jonglei state has raged for over a week, leaving hundreds wounded, many with gunshot wounds. Aid agencies fear that countless others are wounded or lost in the bush as fighting continues and civilians flee attackers.
Both of the surgical wards at Bor hospital are packed, and dozens of men and boys have flopped onto mattresses wedged between supplies in a store room, nursing gunshot wounds.
16-year-old Dut Kuoth marched with many other Lou Nuer from northern Jonglei to Pibor county to mete out their revenge on their rivals, the Murle. The groups have been caught in a worrying cycle of ethnic violence that claimed at least 1,000 lives last year.
In the last major flareup of violence, in January 2012, some 8,000 Lou Nuer and others descended on Murle villages, looting cattle, attacking women and children, massacring and burning.
Hundreds, or even thousands died, and hundreds more in northern Jonglei in a spate of smaller revenge attacks.
But the blood debt has not been paid, and a recent disarmament campaign marred by abuses by government security forces has now pushed many of the Murle into the arms of rebel leader David Yau Yau.
Kuoth says that deadly attacks by Yau Yau prompted men in his Lou Nuer village and many others to come south and release their grief through centuries-old violence made increasingly deadly by modern weaponry.
Dot Kuoth says they are fighting forces under the control of Yau Yau now. He says the Lou Nuer have captured Yau Yau's military base and his heavy weapons. But Dot Kuoth says he was injured by a rocket propelled grenade.
On Tuesday, scores of wounded Lou Nuer hobbled or were carried off army helicopters at Bor airport, and the aircraft quickly took off again to go and pick up more.
But thousands more fighters are said to be weaving their way south, and to date there have been no Murle casualties arriving at Bor, with some at the state hospital saying that they would be not be welcome there.
Some 13,000 Murle have fled to South Sudan's capital, Juba, and others have sought refugee status in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.
But many fled into the bush with nothing months ago, as government forces waged war with Yau Yau’s militiamen and also looted medical facilities, shops and United Nations food stores in Pibor town.
Roland Kaya, who is running operations in Bor for the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, says the group expects more injured to come in and fears for those they can’t reach.
“Currently we can say all medical agencies are working with the Ministry of Health and are concerned about this and are trying to find a way to reach them, but we cannot say how we are going to reach them," he said. "At least we are taking care of the ones who are coming in the hospital.”
The mood in the wards of Bor hospital is anything but somber, as the bandaged get fired up about old grievances and bemoan the fact that they got injured before killing rival clansmen.
Fifteen-year-old Lou Nuer fighter Duol Puol said there were too many other people in front of him to fire his first shots without hitting one of his own.
He fractured his still fragile bones falling down a hole while fleeing from heavily armed attackers in military uniform.
But that doesn’t mean that Puol won’t go back to quench the thirst for Murle blood in retaliation for his parents, who were killed in a 2010 raid.
He said the Yau Yau forces have 15-year-olds coming to attack but he says the Lou Nuer will also come back, until they make the fighting end. He said if they don’t stop, neither will we.
Meanwhile, army spokesman Philip Aguer said the military has its hands full with fighting Yau Yau.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan has reminded the government that its first and foremost job is to protect its people, and the U.S government has expressed its deep concern over escalating violence and called on both the U.N. and the government to intervene.
But for now, it seems that nobody is listening, as countless battles are waged in the bush.