At least 56 people were killed in South Sudan's Upper Nile state after violent clashes broke out between the army and a rebel militia group. The violence is the latest in a string of deadly attacks by rebel camps in the region.
REUTERS - At least 56 people were killed in clashes between militia fighters and soldiers in south Sudan's Upper Nile state just four months before the region is due to become independent, the army said on Monday.
A wave of mass killings in recent weeks has raised fears for the stability of Sudan's oil-producing south and the contested north/south Abyei border region, which also has crude reserves.
Militia fighters killed two southern soldiers on Sunday morning and in an army counter-attack, 47 militiamen and seven soldiers died, southern army (SPLA) spokesman Philip Aguer said.
The south is expected to secede on July 9 after southerners overwhelmingly voted to declare independence from the north in a January referendum -- a vote promised in a 2005 peace accord that ended decades of civil war between north and south.
Aguer repeated accusations that Sudan's northern government was arming militias to try and disrupt the region ahead of its split and keep control of its oil.
He said the militia was linked to the area's Shilluk tribe, based near the village of Owach. "They have received new weapons. We suspect they all acted in coordination with Khartoum ... I think things are going to continue escalating," he said.
Noth's Sudan's dominant National Congress Party (NCP) on Monday denied having any involvement.
"If we really wanted to go back to war, we would not have signed the CPA (the 2005 accord) or accepted the referendum," party official Rabie Abdelati told Reuters.
"We are hoping for a strong south after secession. If the south is not stable the north will not be stable."
The southern army estimates more than 100 people died in clashes between northern and southern-aligned groups in the contested Abyei border region last week.
A satellite monitoring project backed by Hollywood star George Clooney on Monday said it had taken photos showing three villages used by Abyei's south-linked Dinka Ngok people had been destroyed in recent attacks.
"If this violence is left unchecked, it could put the entire north-south peace process at risk," said Clooney in a statement released by the Satellite Sentinel Project.
A southern minister said at least 211 people, including civilians, were killed in a "massacre" by forces loyal to renegade militia leader George Athor in the Fangak area of Jonglei state in mid February. Athor accused the southern army of starting the fighting.
Athor, a former army officer, rebelled last year saying he had been cheated out of the governorship of the southern state of Jonglei in national elections.
A mutiny by Sudanese troops refusing to leave the south ahead of its expected independence killed at least 50 people in early February in Upper Nile, said officials.
French oil group Total leads a consortium controlling a largely unexplored oil concession in Jonglei.
Upper Nile includes oil concessions run by Petrodar, a consortium led by CNPC of China and including Malaysia's Petronas and Sudan's own Sudapet.
Date created : 2011-03-07