Fierce Fighting Breaks Out in Sudan's South

Friday, December 1, 2006

KHARTOUM, Sudan, Nov. 30 -- Hundreds of people may have been killed in the heaviest fighting between Sudan's former north-south foes since they signed a peace deal last year, a former senior rebel officer said Thursday.

Terrified civilians in the southern town of Malakal reported looting and bodies in the streets after three days of clashes, and U.N. officials in New York said 240 civilian workers had been temporarily evacuated.

"More than hundreds have been lost. The Sudan army sustained very heavy casualties, and civilians were caught in the crossfire," said Elias Waya Nyipuocs, a former senior officer in the Sudan People's Liberation Army, a rebel group that fought the government in a long civil war.

Nyipuocs said a militia allied with the Sudanese armed forces attacked the SPLA and the local commissioner of Malakal. The militiamen then took refuge in military barracks near the airport and full combat began. Nyipuocs said the armed forces fought "side by side" with the militia against the SPLA.

Armed forces tanks shelled the town, inflicting many civilian casualties, he said.

A U.N. statement said fighting had subsided early Thursday. Tension between armed groups in the town remained high, and there was sporadic gunfire, looting of shops and violence against civilians.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called the clashes "a serious violation" of the January 2005 deal, which ended what had been Africa's longest civil war. The conflict in southern Sudan took 2 million lives and displaced 4 million people. A separate conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan has left as many as 450,000 people dead from disease and violence and forced 2.5 million from their homes since 2003.

About 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers are monitoring the 2005 agreement, which created separate north and south armies with joint units in major towns and an autonomous southern government.

Malakal is the capital of the Upper Nile region, potentially one of the most oil-rich regions in Sudan.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company