- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 4, 2012

NAIROBI, Kenya — Red Cross volunteers are trying to reconnect 150 children with their missing parents after tens of thousands of residents of South Sudan ran into the bush while fleeing a massive wave of tribe-on-tribe violence, an official said Tuesday.

Many of those parents, though, are feared to be dead.

Violence broke out late last month between two South Sudanese tribes in the town of Pibor, sending tens of thousands of residents into the surrounding countryside.

A death toll is not known because officials cannot gain safe access to the region. One community leader estimates the toll is in the hundreds.

Save the Children said that up to 25,000 women and children fled the violence and are living in the bush. The United Nations reported last week that 6,000 armed men were marching on Pibor.

“Children in the area already live in continual fear of violence and are often abducted in raids. If fighting continues, thousands more could be killed, maimed, abducted or recruited to fight,” the group said.

The U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, Lise Grande, said via video link from South Sudan’s capital, Juba, that she saw five corpses outside of Pibor.

“The situation on the ground now, in humanitarian terms, is grim,” Ms. Grande said. “Because people fled town, they didn’t take anything with them. They’ve been in the bush for up to a week. They haven’t had food, they haven’t had access to clean water, in a number of cases their people are wounded.”

She said the South Sudanese government had promised to reinforce troops with 3,000 infantry soldiers and 800 police officers who were beginning to arrive.

David Gai, who works with the Red Cross in South Sudan, said the situation in Pibor has stabilized and that several hundred people have returned to the town.

But about 150 children who were separated from their families in the mad scramble now cannot find their parents, he said. The youngest of the children is 6 months, he said, and was found lying under a tree. Most are 1 to 7 years old.

“It is not known if their parents are killed or lost during the attack. Our volunteers are trying to register them now,” Mr. Gai said. “What we assume now is that some of the parents are not alive, some of them are killed.”

Doctors Without Borders said two of its medical facilities were targeted during the violence and that the group had to suspend medical services in the region.

Doctors Without Borders said the village of Lekongole was razed and that personnel who were in Pibor on Dec. 28 described it as a “ghost town.”

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