Home | News    Monday 4 December 2006

UN puts death toll from south Sudan clashes at 150

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Dec 3, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — At least 150 people were killed and 400 to 500 wounded in heavy clashes in south Sudan last week between former rebels and the Sudanese army, a United Nations official said on Sunday.

Peter Maxwell, head of the U.N. field office in Malakal, told Reuters most of the dead were combatants, but that 20-30 were civilians caught in the crossfire.

The fighting that erupted on Nov. 28 in the town of Malakal was the heaviest between the northern Khartoum government and the former rebels since a peace deal last year ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.

"There have been about 150 deaths ... and between 400 and 500 wounded," Maxwell said.

A senior officer from the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army had earlier said hundreds of people may have been killed.

Asked if more bodies could be recovered, Maxwell said: "We were driving around yesterday and you could see bodies here and there ... Most of the bodies have now been recovered. You are not going to see a large difference (in the final count)."

He said the U.N. was trying to ensure civilians had access to clean water in Malakal, where cholera outbreaks are common.

The United Nations said on Saturday corpses of people killed during the clashes had contaminated a portion of the Nile river, which civilians were depending on for drinking water because some water pumps in the town were broken.

TRADING ACCUSATIONS

The army and the former rebels have blamed each other for triggering the clashes, which ended with a ceasefire agreement on Friday. The U.N. said in a statement that both sides had now disengaged and redeployed to their areas.

The statement said U.N. peacekeepers and police, in addition to forces from both sides, were patrolling the town as part of an agreed "confidence-building" step.

The United Nations has some 10,000 peacekeepers in the south to monitor the north-south peace agreement, help train police and human rights workers and provide other services.

Maxwell said life in the town was gradually returning to normal on Sunday.

"Yesterday people were queuing for basic food stuff ... Today shops seem to be pretty much open and going back to their normal business, people who fled the fighting are back in town," he said.

The north-south peace deal formed separate north and south armies with joint armed units in main towns including Malakal, the capital of the Upper Nile region and potentially one of the most oil-rich regions in Sudan, which produces at least 330,000 barrels per day of crude.

The deal also included agreements to share power and wealth between the north and south, but implementation has been slow on key issues such as the demarcation of borders and ownership of oil fields.

(Reuters)

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