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ETHIOPIA-SUDAN: Thousands of Anyuak flee to SudanNAIROBI, 12 January 2004 (IRIN) - Since a spate of ethnic killing occurred last month in the Gambella region of western Ethiopia, about 15,000 members of the Anyuak community have fled to neighbouring Sudan, according to humanitarian sources.
Between 100 and 300 Sudanese and Ethiopian Anyuak were arriving every day in Pachala County in the Upper Nile region of southern Sudan, Myron Jesperson, the director of World Relief, told IRIN. Most of the arrivals were in Pachala town, with others scattered throughout the county, he said.
Many of the arrivals were camped at a local school and church, and were dependent on either purchased or hunted food, said Jesperson. With little surplus food available from the last harvest, food assistance would most likely be required in Pachala for between eight and 10 months, he added.
"They're not in a desperate condition, but the question is what is going to happen to them long-term," said Jesperson. If the refugees stay in Pachala, it will result in a 30 percent to 50 percent increase in the county's population, according to World Relief.
Violence in the Gambella region erupted in December when the Anyuak were blamed for an attack on a UN-plated vehicle carrying government officials to Odier, a proposed site for a camp for Dinka and Nuer Sudanese refugees. Eight people in the vehicle were killed and badly mutilated, including three government refugee workers.
The Odier camp was supposed to be a neutral haven for the Sudanese refugees who were to be transferred from another camp, Fugnido, where earlier clashes had occurred.
Local sources told IRIN the attack had sent a clear message to the authorities: that the proposed refugee camp site was on Anyuak land, which they were not prepared to give up to the Nuer and Dinka.
Reprisals against the alleged attackers saw hundreds of Anyuak homes burned to the ground and dozens - some say hundreds - killed over a number of days.
Over 5,000 Ethiopian troops helped to restore calm to the area, which has abundant natural resources, but tensions have since remained high.
A local humanitarian source told IRIN: "They [the Anyuak] are afraid because no-one is protecting them. They are afraid they will be killed or arrested."
The advocacy group Genocide Watch said many of those targeted had been educated Anyuak men. Over 240 Anyuak leaders were being held in jail without trial, it said, with nine more arrested last week.
Competition over land between the Anyuak, who make up 27 percent of the population, and the Nuer, who make up 40 percent, is fierce. The Anyuak see themselves as losing land to the nomadic Nuer, whose numbers are steadily rising.
The Ethiopian government's decentralisation policy of distributing power along ethnic lines in local government has exacerbated the problem, say regional analysts, because the Anyuak fear their power base is being eroded.
There are currently five refugee camps on the Ethiopian side of the border, which are home to 87,000 Sudanese refugees. A spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mahary Maasho, said it remained to be seen whether or not the Odier camp would be established.