JUBA — At least 120,000 South Sudanese have been affected by an explosion of ethnic violence in the troubled state of Jonglei, as the world's newest nation reels from weeks of revenge attacks, the UN said Friday.
"The violence in Jonglei hasn't stopped... Only two weeks ago we launched a massive emergency operation to help 60,000 people," said Lise Grande, the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for the fledgling nation.
"As a result of recent attacks, we now estimate that double that number will need help."
The numbers affected could rise further if bloody tit-for-tat attacks continue, with emergency preparations to support up to 180,000 affected people, Grande added.
The most recent attack took place on Monday, "when 80 people were reportedly killed and 300 houses burnt" in the village of Duk Padiet, she said.
The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates up to 90,000 people are "going to need food right away," Grande told reporters in the capital Juba.
Impoverished Jonglei has seen a dramatic escalation of bloody attacks between rival ethnic groups over cattle raids and abduction of people.
Earlier this month a column of up to 8,000 armed youths from the Lou Nuer people marched on the remote town of Pibor, home to the rival Murle, whom they blame for cattle raiding and have vowed to exterminate.
Aid workers who have visited affected areas say they saw burnt bodies in villages and rotting corpses on the roads, killed as they ran away from their attackers.
However, the UN has been unable to give figures on the number of Murle people killed in the initial violence, with human rights teams still counting bodies that local officials claim could number in the thousands.
UN teams are also entering areas where reprisal attacks have since taken place on Lou Nuer and Dinka tribes, with government estimating that some 150 people have been killed in a series of revenge raids.
Concerns are growing for the stability of grossly underdeveloped South Sudan, which declared independence last July after decades of war with the now rump state of Sudan.
"The most recent spike in inter-communal violence has compounded an already difficult humanitarian situation in South Sudan," Grande said, adding that relief efforts were already overstretched before recent fighting in Jonglei.
Last year, over 350,000 people were forced from their homes due to violence, according to UN figures, while since June South Sudan has also taken in over 80,000 refugees fleeing civil war in north Sudan.
In addition, the South hosts over 110,000 people who fled last May from the contested border region of Abyei -- which both north and south claim as theirs.
Around three million people will need food aid this year.
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