Cattle keepers walk with their cows during a seasonal migration of their cattle for grazing near Tonj, South Sudan on February…
FILE - Cattle keepers walk with their cows near Tonj, South Sudan, Feb. 16, 2020. Cattle keepers are being blamed for the deaths of least eight people in a suspected revenge attack in Central Equatoria state earlier this week.

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - Leaders in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria state say at least eight people were killed in a suspected revenge attack Thursday.

Kajokeji County Commissioner Kenyi Erasto said preliminary findings indicate a group of cattle keepers from Jonglei state attacked residents in Sokare village in retaliation for attack earlier this week.

“There was information which came that two cattle keepers went missing, then their colleagues tried to follow them after two days, then they also fell into an ambush whereby three were [also] injured,” Erasto told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

He said it was possible that “this culture of revenge has happened.”

Erasto identified seven of the dead as five local residents of Kajokeji and two Ugandans. He said the eighth victim was not identified. The bodies were still lying on the ground in Sokare on Friday, according to Erasto.

Wilson Lodiong, a member of parliament who represents Kajokeji County, said he received reports indicating Thursday’s attack occurred a few days after cattle keepers clashed with National Salvation Front rebel forces (NAS).

“Most of them got killed and they could not kill any of the NAS, so on their withdrawal, they went and [carried out] revenge on the civilians,” Lodiong told South Sudan in Focus.

NAS spokesperson Suba Samuel disputed that account.

“These are allegations. What could have caused the fighting between us and the cattle keepers and the killing of the civilians? This is not true,” Samuel told South Sudan in Focus.

Lodiong said most of the victims of Thursday’s attack lived in his home village of Limi. “These people were fish mongers. They were attacked for no reason,” Lodiong told VOA.

Thursday’s attack and others like it threaten efforts to restore peace in Kajokeji and across the country, said Lodiong.

Anyik Chaplain, chairperson of the Kajokeji Youth Association, told South Sudan in Focus the situation was calm on Friday.

But Chaplain also said the attack raises security concerns and hinders the return of internally displaced persons and refugees from neighboring countries.

“When these messages go back to the refugees in the camp, they feel insecure because where the incident happened, it is where we get our fish,” said Chaplain. “It happens along the river, so it is something that is not wanted at this time when people are returning back to Kajokeji.”

Chaplain and Emmanuel Murye, bishop of the Diocese of Kajo-Keji of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, urged authorities to intervene.

Bishop Muyre said authorities should enforce President Salva Kiir’s order issued in 2017 directing cattle keepers in Central Equatoria to return to their original areas.