South Sudan: Tensions rise as independence polls approach

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Southern Sudan plans to contain the uprisings by renegade militia leaders protesting the results of Sudan’s April elections, which saw an overwhelming victory for the region’s Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM). This comes after a former SPLA general, now a militia leader, George Athor, launched a revolt saying he had been cheated in the race for Jonglei governor in April elections.

Despite Sudan government’s vow to prevent any militia uprising from groups associated with Athor, fears over the region’s stability have been expressed as threats from Athor and other militia leaders continue to rock the fragile region in the run up to a referendum, scheduled for January 2011, on whether south Sudan should split away as an independent country.

But experts believe most of the tension has come from the Abyei, the contested oil-rich region which is home to both the Dinka ethnic group, seen as supporters of the south, and the pastoralist, Arabic-speaking Misseriya people, seen as northerners.

According to local officials, a surge in violence which has caused the deaths of several people in the Abyei region were intended to affect next year’s referendum. Abyei region must decide whether it wants to join the south if it secedes, and last week’s uprising has led to calls for alertness on the part of the southern Sudan government.

Abyei’s chief administrator Deng Arop Kuol, believes the killings in Abyei were politically motivated: “They are trying to disrupt the referendum activities, particularly the voter registration,” Reuters news agency quotes him as saying.

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The South Sudan Army (SPLA) militia fighters have been raided and killed in a series of unrest ahead of January 2011, in the oil-producing region. “The attacks were really a surprise to them. The SPLA destroyed the two camps. From the side of SPLM-DC seven were killed … Our forces are now following the remnants and are determined to bring them to justice,” Army spokesperson Kuol Diem Kuol was quoted by reporters.

The conflicts have not led into revolts, although they have raised fears over stability in the region. And whether or not it could affect the position of southerners overwhelmingly want to secede, southern leaders continue to accuse Khartoum of backing militias to destabilize the south, an accusation denied by the north.

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