JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - Forces loyal to a renegade south Sudanese general clashed with government troops for the fourth time in two weeks Friday, leaving at least five soldiers dead, the southern army said.
Tensions are mounting in Sudan’s oil-producing south after General George Athor rebelled, saying he had been cheated out of the governorship of highly-charged Jonglei state in elections last month.
Much of Jonglei state is taken up in a largely unexplored oil concession owned by France’s Total.
The uprising, and worries that others might join him, have raised fears for the stability of the region eight months ahead of a referendum on whether the south should split from the rest of the country and become an independent state.
The south’s army (SPLA) accused Athor’s men of ambushing a southern army truck Friday afternoon in Jonglei’s northern Koliet area.
“The SPLA soldiers managed to fire back. The fighting killed five from the forces loyal to Athor...but others were injured,” southern army spokesman Kuol Diem Kuol told Reuters.
Athor, speaking by satellite phone, said the SPLA started the fighting, which were now over.
“It is dark now and we are not sure of casualties but we are going to see the ground tomorrow and count the dead,” he said.
Athor is demanding the removal of the man who defeated him in the elections and an amnesty for his troops. The SPLA estimates he has about 100 soldiers but said there were signs some police and members of the south’s armed wildlife service had joined him.
Both the elections and the referendum were promised in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended two decades of civil war between Sudan’s Muslim north and the south, where most follow Christianity and traditional beliefs.
Much of east Africa was destabilized by the war and some analysts fear a heavily armed population and tribal and political rivalries in the south could lead to an unstable state after the referendum.
Southerners are widely expected to vote for secession.
Reporting by Skye Wheeler; editing by Andrew Heavens and Jon Boyle