By Peter Martell, in Pochalla for AFP
07 December 2009
Girls and boys in southern Sudan do not need bogeyman scare stories to make them behave: the child snatchers are real.
"They come with guns and steal our children, then kill the rest of us," said Aballa Abich, a tired-looking mother waiting for food aid deliveries in the troubled state of Jonglei.
"Day or night they can attack. We are frightened to let our children out of our sight," added Abich, who comes from the Anyuak people of Pochalla, one of several peoples in the ethnically divided region.
Hundreds of children have been abducted into slavery in a series of bloody clashes between rival groups - including Abich's five-year-old nephew.
"They took him two years ago when he was out hunting in the bush," Abich said sadly. "There has been no news since, only attacks taking more children."
Clashes between the Anyuak's cow-herding neighbours in south Sudan erupt frequently, often provoked by cattle rustling, disputes over grazing or in revenge for previous attacks.
But the small-scale battles have grown in frequency and size in the remote and swampy region which remains awash with automatic weapons from the 22-year civil war between north and south Sudan, which formally ended in 2005.
A series of bloody raids this year has left many people in shock, and there has been a sharp increase in attacks apparently deliberately targeting women and children.
At least 370 children have been snatched in southern Sudan during inter-ethnic violence this year alone, the United Nations estimates.
But other officials give warning that the total could be far larger.
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