Juba, Sudan (AFP) Feb 4, 2011
A rebellion by pro-Khartoum former militiamen in south Sudan against their heavy weaponry being returned to the north sparked clashes that killed at least 13 people, including children, officials and medics said on Friday.
"The situation is very, very bad -- there are very many casualties coming into the hospital," said Tut Gony, the hospital medical director in Malakal, capital of sensitive Upper Nile state on the border with the north and one of the south's three main towns.
"The shooting has stopped for now so people are coming into the hospital. We have received 13 dead. That is four soldiers and the rest were civilians. There have been 30 wounded," Gony added.
A senior official of the south's information ministry said the fighting broke out on Thursday night and was continuing on Friday.
"Some of the casualties are soldiers and some are civilians, including children," Bartholomew Pakwan Abwol told AFP.
Malakal was a key garrison town for the Khartoum government during the 1983-2005 civil war and it still houses much heavy weaponry supplied to northern troops and their militia allies.
Under the peace agreement which ended the devastating conflict, the area is patrolled by a special joint force of northern and southern troops, and some of the northern units are composed of former militiaman.
Southern military spokesman Philip Aguer said the fighting around Malakal airport was sparked when loyalists of wartime militia leader Gabriel Tang objected to the return of their heavy weaponry to the north.
"They did not want the tanks to go the north," said Aguer, spokesman for the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army.
"But the SPLA position is that they should go to the north, because that is what has been agreed," he said, adding that the clashes had involved tank and heavy machine gun exchanges.
Tang gave up his own position in the northern army after accepting an offer of clemency from southern president Salva Kiir late last year but many of his men remain in northern units.
The so-called Joint Integrated Units deployed in sensitive areas like Malakal are due to be phased out in July when the interim arrangements set by the 2005 peace agreement come to an end with the anticipated independence of the south after its overwhelming vote for secession last month.
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