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South Sudan Violence Spreads to Kenyan Refugee Camp

South Sudanese refugees arriving at the Kakuma refugee camp reception center, Kenya on January 16, 2013. (Courtesy: FilmAid)

At least eight people have been killed in fighting between South Sudanese refugees at a camp in northern Kenya, according to an aid agency official.

Officials say the fighting, which began last Thursday following the alleged rape of a young girl, has divided Dinka and Nuer residents of Kakuma refugee camp against each other, mirroring the same ethnic divisions that have defined South Sudan's ongoing crisis.

The two groups represent the biggest ethnic communities in the country, where they have been fighting since last December.

Flora Bukania, field coordinator at Kakuma for the International Rescue Committee, which runs hospital and mortuary services at the camp, says four Nuer and one Dinka refugee have been killed so far in the fighting, as well as three Burundians, who were attacked following a separate incident.

In addition to those fatalities, she says, some 43 others have been injured.

“They are using crude weapons like machetes and blunt objects, so from the injuries we’ve been seeing at the International Rescue Committee hospitals and clinics, mainly it's cuts," she said. "We also have people with blunt head injuries and body injuries and things like that.”

Bukania says two of the injured were flown to Nairobi Monday to receive additional care, adding that violence in the camp has disrupted services and displaced some residents.

“We work also with a lot of refugee workers, so a lot of them have not been coming to work with the initial tensions," she said "Also, some of the refugees have moved out of the camps, out of their homes, and are staying within schools and police stations and churches.”

The United Nations says Kakuma holds some 179,000 refugees, most of them from South Sudan, while others have come from Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi and other countries in the region.

Tens of thousands of new South Sudanese refugees arrived at Kakuma this year to escape violence in their home country.

A Dinka resident of Kakuma, Peter Dhieu Mayom, tells VOA the crisis in South Sudan is a direct cause of increased tensions inside the camp.

“The crisis which has erupted in South Sudan is the one now that has brought to the camp. But the time we were here before there was no problem, but with the influx of the refugees, the new arrivals, now the war starts.”

Mayom also says Kenyan and U.N. authorities at the camp have stepped in to try to persuade all sides to end the violence.

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