Southern Sudan’s army clashed with a new rebel group yesterday in oil-rich Unity state, spokesmen for the army and the insurgents said.
The fighting started when a convoy of trucks hit landmines on the road between Mayom and Abiemnhom counties in the state, Southern Sudan’s army spokesman, Philip Aguer, said today by phone from Juba, the regional capital. One vehicle was destroyed and a driver killed, he said.
Bol Gatkouth Kol, spokesman for the rebel group known as the South Sudan Liberation Army, said by phone today that his forces attacked the village of Boang in Mayom County and killed dozens of government soldiers. Aguer said the government army repelled the attack and couldn’t provide casualty figures.
The violence adds to a series of conflicts that have overshadowed the oil-rich region’s preparations for independence in July. Fighting has killed at least 800 people this year and displaced 93,783 in the region, the United Nations said on April 13.
The SSLA rebel group is led Peter Gadet, a former Southern Sudan army commander from Mayom County. It announced its formation on April 11 by issuing a declaration accusing the regional government of corruption and failing to halt a breakdown in law and order.
Southern Sudan voted in January to secede from Khartoum in a referendum that was the centerpiece of a peace agreement signed in 2005, ending a two-decade civil war between the Muslim north and the south, where traditional religions and Christianity predominate.
“The only reason we were keeping quiet this long was so the referendum could take place,” said rebel spokesman Kol, a former member of parliament.
At independence, the region will assume control of about three-quarters of Sudan’s current oil production of 490,000 barrels a day, pumped mainly by China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. Sudan had 5 billion barrels of proven oil reserves as of January 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The authorities in Southern Sudan say the group is backed by President Umar al-Bashir’s government in Khartoum and that Gadet is mobilizing a northern nomadic tribe, the Misseriya, to fight with his forces in Unity state.
“We have information that the Misseriya are involved in this fighting,” Aguer said.