By JOSH KRON
Published: February 11, 2011
KAMPALA, Uganda — Fresh battles between renegade soldiers and the southern Sudanese military in recent days have left more than 100 people dead in southern Sudan, sending tremors through a heavily militarized region that only days ago celebrated the final results of a referendum to separate from the rest of the country.
The southern Sudanese military clashed on Wednesday and Thursday with hundreds of rebel fighters loyal to a renegade general, George Athor, killing 105 people in Jonglei state and breaking a one-month armistice. The military said Friday that fighting had dissipated, but it remained unclear how long the calm would last.
“The ceasefire is broken,” said a southern Sudanese army spokesperson, Philip Aguer. “This was a surprise move.”
The fighting comes less than a week after official results of the southern referendum were announced, with more than 98 percent of nearly 4 million voters choosing to separate from northern Sudan after decades of civil war. During the war, rebels fought together in a coalition against the north, but have at times turned against one another.
This vast region is considered to be one of the poorest, least-developed places in the world, and it is teeming with soldiers. Security is routinely singled out as the most important priority in southern Sudan right now.
According to the 2005 peace treaty that brought the civil war between the north and the south to an end, 180,000 soldiers from both north and south Sudan were supposed to demobilize and reintegrate into society. But so far only about 400 soldiers across the entire country have completed that process, and the United Nations has been blamed for hindering the country’s demobilization program through fiscal mismanagement.
While the southern Sudanese government and military have expressed confidence about their grip on the region in the run-up to independence — expected to be declared on July 9th — there are a number of signs that suggest that fragile status quo could crumble.
Last weekend, a rebellion by southern Sudanese soldiers in Sudan’s joint-integrated units in the Upper Nile state left 50 people dead, including children and a United Nations employee.
Then on Wednesday, near the town of Fangak in neighboring Jonglei state, two southern Sudanese army trucks were patrolling a road when they were destroyed by mines , killing 16 soldiers in the blast and the ensuing battle. The southern Sudanese military said the mines were laid by rebel soldiers loyal to General Athor, who had led a rebellion last year when he was not elected governor of Jonglei.
He signed a ceasefire with the southern Sudanese government in January, just days before the referendum, paving the way for what international observers called a free, fair and peaceful vote.
Under the terms of the ceasefire, General Athor’s men were expected to assemble at agreed-upon points and rejoin the military, including near Fangak. But the fighting reignited on Wednesday, catching the southern Sudanese military off-guard.
By Thursday afternoon, the rebels had captured the town for a number of hours before later being driven out. When the fighting finally stopped, the southern Sudanese military said, 50 soldiers and 39 civilians had been killed, along with 65 wounded.
The fighting kept medical aid workers from helping the victims. “It is imperative that immediate access to urgent life-saving medical care is granted by the relevant authorities to both civilians and all parties to the conflict,” Doctors Without Borders said in a statement.
The southern Sudanese army said that they did not know why they had been attacked, but that they did not want a return to war.
“We still want reconciliation with George Athor,” said the southern military spokesman, Mr. Aguer. “We want people to start reconstructing their lives.”
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