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JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - Seventeen people were killed on Thursday when armed civilians ambushed south Sudanese soldiers trying to disarm tribes following heavy fighting in the semi-autonomous region last year, an official said on Tuesday.
A 2005 peace deal ended more than two decades of north-south civil war, but the south Sudan army has found it difficult to disarm civilians in the lawless south and tribal violence claimed an estimated 2,500 lives in the south last year.
"The soldiers clashed with armed civilians, 13 were killed from the soldiers' side and four from the civilians," Lakes State Deputy Governor David Noc Marial told Reuters. The civilians' refusal to disarm was behind the ambush, he said.
Five people were killed in clashes between troops and armed civilians earlier last week, Marial said, after a young man who refused to give up his gun was shot dead. "The civilian was killed on the spot ... the relatives ran after the soldiers."
The International Crisis Group think tank put the number of people killed in cattle raids and revenge attacks last year at about 2,500, many of them women and children.
The violence, mostly in Jonglei which borders the Lakes State, led to renewed calls for the disarmament of communities bristling with guns accumulated during the north-south war.
Analysts worry that a security vacuum in rural areas could lead to more intense violence ahead of elections in April and a southern vote on secession in 2011.
Marial said that disarmament in the Lakes State had been temporarily halted. "We've taken the soldiers to one side and evacuated them until there is peace in the area," he said.
Some 2 million people were killed in the north-south war, fought over differing religious, political and ethnic identities and ideology, inflamed by the discovery of oil in the south. An additional 4 million were forced to flee their homes.
Editing by Opheera McDoom and Tim Pearce