Southern Sudan voted in January to secede from Sudan's
north, but violence has flared in multiple locations across
the south in the last two weeks, underscoring the challenges
the region faces before it declares independence on July 9.
The evicted rebel leader, George Athor, told The
Associated Press by satellite phone that his forces withdrew
from their base in the village of Korwai in the southern
state of Jonglei.
"We withdrew after it was dark because we ran out of
ammunition and we could not expose our people without
ammunition," said Athor, a former deputy chief of staff in
the southern military who resigned from the military to run
for state governor but lost the election and rebelled
against the government.
Col. Philip Aguer, the spokesman for the southern
military, said the military took Athor's headquarters in
Korwai as well as weapons and equipment.
Asked about his location and if he was personally
involved in the fighting, Athor replied: "I'm not hiding.
The (southern army) knows my place very well."
The southern army spokesman told the AP that the army did
not know where Athor had withdrawn to, but said that the
army had "stabilized the region" and was now conducting a
"mop-up operation" and will soon provide casualty figures.
An international official said 35 of Athor's men and 16
troops in the southern military died in the fighting Monday.
Aguer said he did not have a death toll, and an aide to
Athor offered only what appeared to be a wildly exaggerated
toll. The international official spoke on condition of
anonymity because the southern military hadn't made any
death tolls public.
The spokeswoman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission to
Sudan, Hua Jiang, said U.N. personnel are not able to access
the area of the fighting, so she said she couldn't comment
on the violence or the death toll.
Southerners voted almost unanimously to separate from
northern Sudan in a peaceful referendum in January. Now that
the vote has passed, however, internal differences among
southerners are resurfacing in the form of insurrections
that the southern government worked to contain before the
The U.N. has a mandate to observe and monitor armed
groups and protect civilians under imminent threat of
physical violence, but its troops have not always been able
to fulfill that mission since the independence referendum,
when a series of violent attacks began.
Last month fighting between the southern army and Athor's
forces killed more than 200 people, mostly civilians. U.N.
troops did not visit the scene of the attack until several
days after it was over.
Days before the referendum, Athor's forces accepted a
cease-fire with the southern army, but less than a week
after the official results of the vote were announced,
fighting resumed between the two sides.
Monday's fighting comes on the heels of violence in Upper
Nile state on Sunday that killed more than 50 people. That
fighting involved the southern army and another militia
force which Athor has claimed is loyal to him.