March 8, 2011 (JUBA) — At least over 100 people have been confirmed dead in two separate clashes involving forces belonging to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the military wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which governs South Sudan, and armed elements identified loyal to renegade groups operating in the two states of Greater Upper Nile.
- SPLA soldiers (UN)
On 6 March 2011, officials from Jonglei and Upper Nile States and an SPLA spokesman confirmed in an interview with Sudan Tribune that heavy fighting took place in a village near Owuac in Upper Nile state and in areas hosting renegade General George Athor.
Owuac is one of the villages predominantly inhabited by members of the Shilluk ethinc group, many of whom are perceived as supporters of Lam Akol, the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation - Democratic Change (SPLM-DC). The SPLM-DC secretary general Sandra Malual in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Sunday denied connection to the militia group involved in the fighting with SPLA forces or affiliation to any armed groups operating anywhere in the south.
SPLM-DC was formed in 6 June 2009, by the first South Sudanese to become the foreign affairs minister after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Lam Akol. Before disagreements with the leadership of the SPLM, Akol was a member of the SPLM.
As part of the CPA, the 2005 peace deal that ended the over two decades of north-south conflict, the SPLA became the official army of South Sudan and the SPLM the ruling party. The South is due to become independent in July after a referendum held earlier this year in which majority of the South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly for secession from the north.
In an interview with Sudan Tribune on Monday evening, Colonel Phillip Aguer, spokesman of the Southern army, said over 60 were killed in the clashes involving SPLA forces and an armed group he said was loyal to a militia leader identified as Oliny. The military officer explained that the military group on Sunday intercepted SPLA soldiers on their way to the local market in a village near Owuac resulting into a clash in which one SPLA soldier was killed and another sustained injury.
"On Sunday 6 at 11:00am, armed groups loyal to Oliny intercepted some of the SPLA soldiers who were on their way to the local market in a village near Owuac, resulting into the clash in which one of the SPLA soldiers was killed and another sustained and retreated to their base from where they then launched preemptive attack against militia groups. It was in the second clash in which SPLA forces managed to disperse militia groups, killing 47 of them and injuring 28 others. The SPLA lost seven members," explained Aguer.
The spokesman said eight other militia members were found dead later during sentinel search after clashes in the area along the riverside.
On similar development, Aguer further said the SPLA launched other preemptive attacks on renegade forces loyal to General Athor, killing some of them and capturing some of their weapons and ammunition.
"The SPLA forces after receiving sufficient information supported by enough evidences that forces loyal to General Athor were planning to launch another disastrous attack on the local population and on our forces like it happened in Fangak last month, launched preemptive attacks, killing some of them and capturing 500 Kalashnikovs and other weapons," said Aguer.
He said SPLA forces captured many places previously under Athor’s control including his headquarters said Aguer, declining to give details of the casualties.
Dok James Puok, spokesman for Athor in a separate interview confirmed the clash which he described as one of the heaviest armed confrontations since they launched their rebellion. He claimed that 169 SPLA soldiers were killed and several others were wounded. It was one of the heaviest clashes. It began at 6:00am and end at 4:30pm on Monday.
"We have lost 34 on our side and few others sustained injuries," said Puok, claiming that the SPLA was badly affected.
"The SPLA forces suffered a lot. We are told they lost 105 in the first and 64 in the second attack. It was one of the heaviest confrontations and I believe will take them long time to regroup for another attack", said Puok.
Puok claimed SPLA forces burned down six villages they accused of collaborating with Athor, after failing to heed SPLA warnings issued to them last week to evacuate.
"The SPLA killed 168 innocent civilians and burned down six villages because they refused to heed their calls to convince General Athor to surrender. They have burned down villages of Amanyangdit, Amanyangthii, Kulang, Kolnyang, Koliet and Wundit", said Puok.
He denied accusations that some of the Kalashnikovs were captured by the SPLA. "No single gun was captured from our forces. What I think they claimed to have captured from our forces were unused fuses left behind in Koliet when they withdrew", he said.