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Ethiopian government surrounds South Sudan area where child hostages held

The Ethiopian government has reportedly surrounded an area in South Sudan where an armed group is holding 125 children hostage. Meanwhile, the country mourns those killed in last week's raid when the children were taken.

Ethiopian troops have reportedly crossed into South Sudan and surrounded the villages of Jior and Kok, where the 102 children are being held by Murle tribesmen, Gatluak Tut, president of Gambella Regional State, told state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corp.

The government puts the death toll at least 208 after the Murle allegedly attacked 13 villages last Friday across the Gambella region and stole more than 2,000 cattle. Ethiopia says it killed at least 60 of the attackers. The assailants, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, killed anyone who opposed them, according to witnesses.

Additional medical personnel has also reportedly been sent from Addis Ababa to help treat dozens of people injured during the attack. "We have treated 82 patients," a medic in the Gambella region told the BBC, "most suffering from bullet wounds to the chest, abdomen or head."

Ethiopia began two days of mourning on Wednesday to honor victims of the Friday attack, with flags flying at half-mast.

The players

The Murle, a tribe from South Sudan based in the eastern Jonglei region close to the Ethiopian border, often stage raids to steal cattle and abduct children but rarely on such a scale. The targets of the raid were members of the Nuer ethnic group who live in both South Sudan and Ethiopia, AFP reported.

The region hosts thousands of South Sudanese refugees who fled when war broke out in December 2013. It is also home to Ethiopian and South Sudanese armed groups that have attacked government installations and soldiers.

Ethiopia has been heavily involved in the South Sudan peace process, partly because of the risk that the conflict could destabilise Gambella, 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the frontier.

Reactions

Last week's deadly raid has unleashed a wave of anger and boosted fears that the civil war in South Sudan could spill over the border.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said in a national address that Ethiopia has been in consultations with South Sudan to take joint military measures against the attackers.

"The army has been conducting reconnaissance missions in South Sudan and they have a clear idea of where the children are," Ethiopia's Communications Minister Getachew Reda told AFP.

jbh/jil (AP, AFP)

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