By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
May 16, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – Ethiopian officials on Monday said dozens of children who were kidnapped by a South Sudanese militia group have been recovered and safely returned home following negotiations with the abductors.
- South Sudanese refugee Nyarout Chuol with her children at a UNHCR-run refugee camp in Gambella, Ethiopia (Photo: William Davison)
According to Gambela regional officials 44 children have so far been returned home after being held hostage for weeks.
The regional state and military officials of the Ethiopian Defense Force are receiving the children upon arrival at Gambella region bordering South Sudan.
Helicopters of the Ethiopian Air force are transporting the children from South Sudan to Ethiopia’s Gambella region from where they were abducted last month.
Up on arrival, the children whose ages mostly ranged from 1-5 years are also receiving medical treatment.
The abducted were freed after South Sudan deputy Defense Minister who is also member of Murle tribe; David Yaw yaw in collaboration with regional administrators and clan leaders made negotiation with the abductors .
Arrival of the children follows days after a South Sudanese official said they have recovered 32 of the over 100 kidnapped Ethiopian children.
Ogato Chan, acting governor of South Sudan’s Boma state recently said local chiefs have collected 32 children from three villages in Likuangole County where the raiders had dropped them off.
The children were taken to the state capital Pibor then sent to Juba for repatriation to Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Military was ready to strike against the Murule armed group in a bid to rescue the children however it holdback after the South Sudan government promised to return back the children through negotiation.
According to government officials, efforts to peacefully rescue all the kidnapped children and looted cattle will be strongly continued.
More children are expected to return home in the coming days, regional officials said.
Last week communication minister, Getachew Reda said taking any military action in a sovereign country should be in accordance with the full knowledge and consent of the target country.
He said senior military officials from South Sudan have been negotiating with the Ethiopian Defense Force for the peaceful settlement of the matter.
Despite the ongoing negotiations, a military official who asked anonymity however told Sudan Tribune that the Ethiopian defense Forces will eventually carryout punitive military action to stop the Murules from any future cross-border raids.
“The prime target is bringing back the children alive but perpetrators will be hunted down and punished”, said the official. He however, declined to give further details.
On April 15, 2016 hundreds of members of a South Sudan militia group armed with machine guns, raided 13 villages in Anuak and Nuer Zones of Ethiopia’s Gambela Region where they killed over 200 people and snatched some 125 children.
The armed Murule militants further looted over 2,000 livestock.
Gambella region is a shelter for more than 280,000 South Sudanese refugees who fled to Ethiopia to escape a conflict in their home country that broke out in December 2013.