The fighting with forces loyal to George Athor in south Sudan’s Jonglei state on Wednesday and Thursday broke a shaky ceasefire with the southern government and followed an army mutiny in neighbouring Upper Nile state that killed at least 60.
The violence, which ended a period of relative calm in the underdeveloped and divided territory, comes at a particularly sensitive time for the south.
On Monday, final results showed that around 99 percent of southerners voted to separate from the north of Sudan in a referendum held under a 2005 peace deal which ended decades of north-south civil war.
That conflict killed an estimated 2 million people and was also marked by violence between rival southern militias. There have been fears that old divisions could re-surface during the build-up to secession, which is due to take place on July 9.
“George Athor’s forces attacked an SPLA (the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army) base in Jonglei state. Four SPLA soldiers were killed and 12 of Athor’s men,” said SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer. “This is a violation of the ceasefire agreement. Not only has he attacked SPLA, he has been planting landmines as well.”
Aguer said Athor’s men launched the attack in the Jonglei community of Door on Wednesday morning.
Athor’s militia also staged two assaults near the settlement of Fangak on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, and two vehicles carrying SPLA soldiers hit a landmine on Wednesday. Aguer had no casualty figures.
Athor, who was a senior officer in the southern army, rebelled after saying he was cheated out of the governorship of Jonglei state in April 2010 elections.
Athor agreed a ceasefire with the southern army in January, just before voting started in the referendum. He was not immediately available for comment on Thursday but told the online Sudan Tribune that the SPLA had launched the attacks.
Southern leaders accused Khartoum of backing Athor when he first revolted but did not repeat the accusations on Thursday. “We call on George Athor to look at this great moment in our history and make a logical decision for peace,” said Aguer.
Southern soldiers in a northern army unit in neighbouring Upper Nile state mutinied last week after refusing to redeploy north as part of a separation of forces before the south’s independence. The southern army said on Thursday that the death count from those clashes had climbed to 60.
Sudan’s north-south war was fuelled by differences over ethnicity, ideology, religion and oil, and left the south flooded with guns and other munitions. Reuters