JUBA // Fighting between Southern Sudan's military and forces loyal to a southern rebel leader has killed 51 troops and dislodged the renegade army commander from his bush outpost, officials said yesterday.
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, said 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 Mr 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.
Colonel Philip Aguer, the spokesman for the southern military, said the military captured Mr Athor's headquarters in Korwai, as well as weapons and equipment.
Asked about his location and if he was personally involved in the fighting, Mr Athor replied: "I'm not hiding. The [southern army] knows my place very well."
The southern army spokesman said the army did not know where Mr Athor had withdrawn to, but said that the army had "stabilised the region" and was now conducting a "mop-up operation" and will soon provide casualty figures.
An international official said 35 of Mr Athor's men and 16 troops in the southern military died in the fighting Monday. Col Aguer said he did not have a death toll, and an aide to Mr Athor offered what appeared to be a wildly exaggerated toll. The international official spoke on condition of anonymity because the southern military had not made any death tolls public.
The spokeswoman for the UN peacekeeping mission to Sudan, Hua Jiang, said UN personnel are not able to access the area of the fighting, so she said she could not comment on the violence or the death toll.
In a separate contested area of Sudan, satellite images released yesterday by a group backed by the actor George Clooney showed some 300 buildings burned to the ground from a militia attack.
The buildings were burned in a village near the town of Abyei, a disputed area between north and south Sudan that is the most contentious issue between the two regions. Abyei has seen a wave of attacks in recent days that have killed more than 100 people and sent tens of thousands of people fleeing the area.
The Satellite Sentinel Project said its latest images confirm the "widespread and systematic targeting of civilian infrastructure across the Abyei region."
Mr Clooney said: "Village burning has caused tens of thousands to be displaced, unknown numbers of civilian casualties, and the deliberate destruction of at least three communities."
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 January vote.