The Ethiopian military has located more than 100 children believed to have been abducted by South Sudanese gunmen last week, local media reported on Wednesday, and is in the process of carrying out a large-scale cross-border operation to retrieve them.
A government minister told AFP on Wednesday that troops had crossed into South Sudan to search for the children, who were taken during an attack in the border region of Gambela during which 208 people died and 2,000 cattle were also taken. Ethiopian authorities said members of the South Sudanese Murle tribe were responsible.
Defense forces have surrounded the areas of Jior and Kok, reported the Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC). A government official told FBC the children would be rescued and reunited with their families. On Thursday a South Sudanese government official told FBC the country's military was coordinating with Ethiopian counterparts to help track down the gunmen.
Also on Thursday, residents of Gambela state held a peaceful demonstration condemning the killing of innocent civilians and demanding the government intensify its efforts to rescue the kidnapped children.
Cross-border cattle raids have taken place in the past in the same area, which alongside a neighboring province is home to more than 284,000 South Sudanese refugees who have fled civil war in their country.
Previous attacks, however, were smaller in scale. The Gambela region is home to many people from the Nuer ethnic group, which is largely centered in South Sudan. The gunmen are not believed to have links with South Sudanese government troops or rebel forces who fought the government in Juba in a civil war that ended with a peace deal signed last year.
However the raid is reported to have targeted the Nuer tribe, which the South Sudanese rebels belong to.
Under pressure from neighboring states, the United States, the United Nations, and other powers, South Sudan's feuding sides signed an initial peace deal in August and agreed to share out ministerial positions in January.
Rebel leader Riek Machar was set to return to the capital Juba on Monday for the first time since he fled two years ago, to be sworn in as vice president in a transitional unity government. But accusations and counter-accusations that both sides were reneging on commitments made under the terms of the peace deal meant he was still in his military base on the Ethiopian border.
Rebel spokesman James Gatdet Dak said that Machar was expected to fly into Juba on Thursday.
Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews
Reuters contributed to this report.