Renegade leader clashes with South Sudan army, offers ceasefire


Renegade militia fighters clashed twice with south Sudanese soldiers, both sides said in the latest sign of instability in the oil-producing territory months ahead of its expected independence.

Militia leader George Athor, a former army officer who rebelled last year saying he had been cheated out of the governorship of the southern state of Jonglei, told Reuters he was ready to call a ceasefire to end weeks of violence.

Just short of 99 percent of southern voters chose to split away from the north in a referendum in January, a vote promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the north. The south is due to secede on July 9, Reuters reports.

Athor, speaking by satellite phone, said his forces exchanged fire with southern army patrols on Friday and Saturday in Jonglei — where French oil giant Total was due to start exploring this year.
“There were skirmishes between reconnaissance patrols on Friday, in a village called Pachot, the SPLA (southern army) had seven injured, four killed.”

He said there were no fatalities in fighting a day later in the village of Alow.

Athor said he had ordered his men not to launch more attacks.
“We are ready to declare a ceasefire. We will only respond if we are attacked … Our people are really suffering. When there is fighting they leave their homes and go to the bush. There is need for a ceasefire for our people to go back to their villages.”

SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said Athor’s forces attacked the army on Friday and Saturday, but had no details of casualties.

Aguer said the south’s semi-autonomous government would have to agree to any ceasefire. No one was immediately available to comment from the government.

The SPLA has accused Athor of breaking an earlier truce by massacring more than 200 people in the Fangak area of Jonglei in mid February. Athor accused the SPLA of starting that fighting.

The south has regularly accused north Sudan of arming Athor to destabilise the region and keep control of its oil. Athor and Khartoum have dismissed the allegations.