South Sudan army says tribesmen resume attacks

JUBA, Sudan
January 4, 2007 (AFP)

Fresh fighting erupted between southern Sudanese forces and Arab tribesmen near key oil areas of the country Friday, former southern rebels said, further denting hopes of an end to north-south hostilities.

Dozens of people have been reported killed since fighting first erupted late last month near the disputed Abyei oil areas between Arab tribesman and ex-rebel south Sudanese army units.

"They have attacked again," Major General Mai Hoth, deputy chief of the southern former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army, told AFP. "They attacked late in the night, and the fighting is still going on."

Clashes had first erupted in December when tribesman, backed by militiamen, attacked a southern army garrison, the former rebels said, although the tribesmen say they were bombarded first.

Hoth charged on Wednesday that Khartoum had missed a new deadline to withdraw its troops from south Sudan, breaching a deal that saw the former rebels rejoin the national government last week after a two-month boycott.

The violence has erupted shortly before the third anniversary of the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement on January 9, 2005 that ended 21 years of north-south conflict in Sudan, Africa’s longest-running civil war.

An estimated two million people were killed and another six million displaced in the two-decade-long conflict.

Khartoum’s promise to pull northern troops out of the southern autonomous region by the end of 2007 was part of an agreement that paved the way for the former rebels to rejoin the national unity government on December 27.

Its failure to meet an earlier deadline for the pullout was one of the key reasons cited by the former rebels for quitting the government.

Under the CPA, which created a southern autonomous government and two separate armies, northern troops should have withdrawn from the south by July 9, 2007.

However, the north had only moved two-thirds of its forces by then, according to the United Nations, setting off a protracted war of words that culminated in the south recalling its ministers in October.

The north has in the past argued that its army needed to remain in the south to protect the country’s oil wealth, 80 percent of which is concentrated in the area.

Under the CPA, the two sides should have formed a joint north-south force to patrol the oil areas, but the force was not fully operational by the time the south pulled out of government.

 

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