At least six people have been killed and 26 taken hostage in clashes over the weekend in Unity state between rebel militias and southern Sudan’s army – the SPLA – as the military give conflicting details on the attack, which comes days ahead of a referendum on the region’s independence.
SPLA spokesperson Philip Aguer, said the southern Sudan army ambushed militia loyal to Galwak Gai. He also claimed in statements to Reuters they were sent by Khartoum to disrupt the south’s referendum.
"They were coming from the north to disrupt the referendum. It is a known game. The spoilers are always here. They definitely came from Khartoum," he told Reuters. On Saturday Gai’s forces launched a counter attack against the SPLA.
Since the 2005 peace agreement ended hostilities between the north and south, the southern government, led by former rebel movement the SPLM, have periodically accused Khartoum of aiding southern militia in order to destabilize the region and disrupt the referendum.
Unity state governor Taban Deng Gai also accused the Khartoum government of funding the rebel group and supplying them with weapons in order to threaten referendum particularly in oil-rich Unity state.
Deng told Sudan Tribune on Saturday that Sudan’s ruling party the National Congress Party “gave 57 heavy artilleries to Galwak Gai forces to attack our communities in Unity state, and indeed they did it yesterday in attacking their forces at Tor-Abieth.”
The allegations have always been denied by Khartoum.
The underdeveloped south suffers from cattle raiding and resource-led ethnic violence, which is perpetuated by the prevalence of small arms in the region, a lasting remnant of the regions civil wars, despite various disarmament campaigns.
SPLA-spokesperson-Aguer said that his forces killed two of Gai’s rebels and captured 26 on Friday and killed four more the following day.
He told Sudan Tribune in Juba on Saturday that as well as the six rebels killed there were 14 people were killed and several others injured. He said that 32 militia fighters were apprehended. The killings appear to be a renewal of armed confrontation between two armed forces ahead of the referendum that begins today, Aguer said.
Speaking on Saturday Aguer said: “I am told armed groups belonging to the militia commander, Galwak Gai, have twice attacked our position in Tor Abieth yesterday and today.” He said that no SPLA soldiers had been injured.
“From our side, I am told no single soldier has been killed. There are also no reports of injuries on our side from the ground but I am told six on the side of the side of the attackers have been killed.”
“Two (of Gai’s militia) were killed yesterday on Friday and additional four others were killed today on Saturday and our forces are following them. They are conducting hot pursuit. They will not give them room to sabotage this coming referendum so that our people exercise their rights to vote in a free environment. They will make sure that they are outside southern territory today so that [the] upcoming vote is conducted in an in security free environment. They will make them run and bring them under control,” Aguer said.
Speaking at Juba International Airport Aguer said that 15 of the attackers had been brought to Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, as proof of the attack.
“These are the very people who attacked our forces yesterday and again today. Their plan was to sabotage the conduct of this upcoming referendum,” said Aguer.
The United Nation Mission in Sudan, who is mandated to observe the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) has sent a team to Tor-Abieth, west of Wangkeay in Mayom county, in Unity state to investigate the incident.
In Unity state SPLA General Gatdet Nyakuay told Sudan Tribune that the SPLA will make sure citizens are protected during referendum and that the exercise is conducted peacefully.
Following disputed election results in some areas of the south, Gai and other disaffected members of the SPLM/A rebelled against the Government of Southern Sudan.
The most prominent until now has been George Athor a former high ranking SPLA general who lost his bid to become the governor of Jonglei state against the incumbent, who was nominated by the SPLM, the political wing of the SPLA.
However, Athor’s representatives signed a ceasefire with the SPLA on January 5 in Juba.Sudan Tribune