South Sudan army kills fighters in clashes

Apr 3, 2011

At least 55 fighters were killed when south Sudan's army clashed with a rebel group in Jonglei State, a state minister said on Sunday, the latest in a wave of violence across the territory ahead of its independence in July.

Scores of troops and civilians were injured in the clashes on Saturday, Peter Lam Both, Upper Nile State information minister, said.

The southern army (SPLA) clashed with forces loyal to renegade army commander Gabriel Tang during what was meant to be the reintegration of his forces into south Sudan's army, Both said.

"We understand that on the side of [Tang's forces] 55 were killed including five of his generals," Both told Reuters, adding his information had come from the south Sudan army.

"We don't have reports of those killed from the SPLA and civilian sides but the [overall] death toll must be much higher," he said.

The minister said Malakal, the state capital, had received 34 wounded SPLA soldiers and 43 civilian injuries.

The clashes happened south of Malakal, just across the border in Jonglei State, Both said.

Historic poll

The oil-producing south voted to separate from the north in a January referendum which had been promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war in Sudan.

Since the historic poll, the region has been beset by violence and insecurity.

The SPLA is at war with at least seven armed groups, and traditional tribal clashes have intensified with the onset of the rainy season, according to the UN, which says more than 800 people have been killed this year.

Analysts warn the south risks becoming a failed state and destabilising the region if it cannot control the crisis, with tens of thousands displaced by the various conflicts affecting nine of its ten states, according to UN figures.

In a separate incident in Jonglei, a Sudanese employee of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was killed on Friday in an ambush by unknown assailants, the WFP said in a statement on Sunday.

In neighbouring Unity State, Peter Gadet, a renegade SPLA officer, this week began a sustained assault against the SPLA, with at least 45 people killed so far, officials said.

A spokesman for Gadet says the offensive will continue "until victory".

Oil production in the state was disrupted by the violence, according to state officials, who said they first expelled then re-admitted northern Sudanese workers to oil areas, underscoring the threat insecurity poses to the economy.

Gideon Gatpan Thoar, Unity State information minister, could not confirm on Sunday whether the workers had yet returned.

Khartoum denial

About 98 per cent of the south's budget comes from oil revenue, and how it shares its oil with the north after independence remains unresolved.

It is currently spilt roughly 50-50 and the only pipelines to export the oil run through the north.

The petroleum ministry could not say how much of the around 500,000 barrels per day of production was affected by the violence.

The southern government accuses the north of sponsoring the armed groups fighting the SPLA, an allegation Khartoum denies.

The fighters accuse the government of plotting to stay in power indefinitely, not fairly representing and supporting all tribal groups while neglecting development in rural areas.