Nairobi, Marach 14 (DPA) At least 42 combatants have died in fighting between rebels and the army in Southern Sudan’s Upper Nile State, the southern army said Monday.
Rebels attacked the town of Malakal Saturday, and were repelled by the army, southern army spokesman Philip Aguer said. The majority of the dead were militia, he said.
The militiamen were believed to be loyal to renegade general George Athor, who has clashed with the southern authorities several times in recent months despite signing a peace agreement just before January’s referendum on independence.
Fighting with Athor and clashes between rival ethnic groups in the oil-producing border region of Abyei are threatening to destabilise Southern Sudan as it prepares to break away from the north following an overwhelming vote in favour of secession.
Southern Sudan is due to declare its independence July 9, but many issues still need to be resolved, including the future of Abyei and the final demarcation of the north-south border, which leaves much of Sudan’s oil in the south.
Southern leaders walked out of talks with the north on issues relating to the upcoming independence at the weekend, accusing Omar al-Bashir’s government of arming the rebels.
The north denies these charges.
More than two million southerners died and four million were displaced in Sudan’s 1983-2005 north-south civil war, which was essentially a continuation of the 1955-1972 conflict that followed independence from joint British and Egyptian rule.
The poll was enshrined in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war between the mainly Muslim north and Christian and Animist south.