Dozens dead in South Sudan fighting

Renewed clashes between rebel group and military come three weeks after 240 people were killed in same region.

    The clashes have exposed deep internal rifts within the oil-roch state that will declare independence in July [EPA]

    Fresh fighting in a tense area of Southern Sudan has killed dozens of people, officials say.

    George Athor, a rebel leader, said his forces fought with the southern military in the Jonglei state. Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army, confirmed that the fighting took place.

    The death tolls provided by the two men on Wednesday varied widely. Athor said 110 people died in the fighting, mostly southern soldiers.

    Aguer said around 40 were killed. He didn't specify if they were soldiers or civilians, but he called Athor's toll an exaggeration.

    "I don't know why he should be proud of killing. The (southern army) is trying to protect against what General Athor did on the 9th and 10th of February in Fangak," Aguer said, referring to the fighting in the same region three weeks ago that killed at least 240 people.

    Athor said his men fought southern army troops in three locations in Fangak County on Sunday. He said his forces captured 90 weapons. The fighting has stopped, he said.

    Deep internal rifts

    Government leaders in Southern Sudan accused Athor, a former deputy chief of staff in the southern army, of committing a "massacre," but Athor said the army had attacked his forces first as they were gathering in "assembly points" outlined in a January 5 cease-fire agreement between his forces and the army.

    The cease-fire was signed on the eve of the south's January independence referendum, which passed overwhelmingly and will see Southern Sudan become the world's newest nation in July.

    The agreement was brokered with support from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Sudan.

    Hua Jiang, the mission's spokesman, said on Tuesday that the UN is "trying to assist in their negotiations."

    Athor is considered the most powerful of the several southern rebels who launched rebellions against the Juba government after disputed elections last year. The south's ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement has accused the Khartoum government of backing the rebels.

    Regardless of who is backing these rebellions, they have exposed deep internal rifts within the oil-rich south which could continue to destabilise the region after it declares independence on July 9.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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