Tribal, rebel violence kills 2,300 in South Sudan - U.N.

JUBA, Sudan Thu Jul 7, 2011 10:39am BST

A machinegun-mounted truck manned by members of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) drive past smouldering businesses and homesteads, locally known as ''tukuls'', burn in the centre of Abyei, central Sudan in this handout photograph released on May 28, 2011. REUTERS/Stuart Price/United Nations Mission in Sudan/Handout

A machinegun-mounted truck manned by members of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) drive past smouldering businesses and homesteads, locally known as ''tukuls'', burn in the centre of Abyei, central Sudan in this handout photograph released on May 28, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Stuart Price/United Nations Mission in Sudan/Handout

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JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - More than 2,300 south Sudanese have died in tribal and rebel violence this year, the United Nations said on Thursday, in an ominous reminder of the insecurity of the region in its final days before independence.

South Sudan is due to secede on Saturday - and analysts have long said the underdeveloped territory risks becoming a failed state if it cannot control insurgencies and the long-running blood feuds that divide its tribes.

More than 500 people died in the last two weeks of June, the U.N. figures showed, a sharp rise from the 1,800 violent deaths reported in mid-June.

Most of the recent deaths were related to a series of cattle raids in Pibor county in the south's oil-producing Jonglei state, Lise Grande, the United Nations' top humanitarian official in the south, told reporters.

Ethnic groups have fought each other over cattle -- a vital part of the indigenous economy -- for centuries. Death counts have mounted after decades of civil war left the territory flooded with small arms.

South Sudan's government has accused the north of arming rival tribes and provoking insurgencies in a bid to undermine the region and keep control of its oil. Khartoum has denied the charge.

The independence vote was the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war which killed about 2 million people and forces 4 million to flee. North and south Sudan have fought for all but a few years since 1955 over ethnicity, religion, ideology and oil.

"There was a (cattle) raiding party who attacked (another tribe) over a series of days ... About 100,000 cattle were stolen," said Grande.

From the beginning of the year up to the end of June, 2,368 people had died in 330 violent incidents spread across nine of the south's 10 states, she added.

The violence has forced more than 270,000 people to flee, including 100,000 who escaped fighting in the disputed Abyei region - a north/south flashpoint on their ill-defined border, according to the figures.

More than 300,000 have also returned voluntarily to the south since October last year, heaping pressure on the government and aid agencies, said the United Nations.

"We've got 1,000 returnees per day at the moment," Grande said. "That's up from a few hundred per day just a couple weeks ago, and I think we may not have peaked yet. That number may go higher."

At least seven rebel militia are fighting government forces in remote parts of the territory. Many of them say they are fighting against what they see as corruption and ethnic discrimination in the south's government.

South Sudan's president Salva Kiir has offered the rebels amnesties and pardons, asking them to help build the new nation.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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