20 000 flee S Sudan clashes

2011-02-17 21:53

Juba - Over 20 000 people fled clashes last week between rebels and the army in south Sudan's troubled Jonglei state in which over 200 people died, a senior official said on Thursday.

"People have run from the fighting, and 20 000 people have been displaced," said Stephen Kuol, Jonglei's state education minister, releasing the findings of an assessment mission to the devastated Fangak region in which he took part.

The figures could not be independently verified, and the report of a United Nations team that visited the site of the clashes has not yet been released.

Many of the victims - the majority of them civilians - reportedly drowned in a river as they tried to escape the two days of fighting.

Kuol, who comes from the area and who helped to bury some of the victims in mass graves, said he witnessed "floating corpses" following the violence last week, which he described as "mass butchery".

Several officials in the county administration died, as well as the deputy head of both the prison and army based in the area, Kuol said.


Followers of the renegade southern general George Athor are accused of carrying out the attacks, which broke a ceasefire many had hoped would end the conflict.

They came just days after formal confirmation of the results of the January 9-15 referendum on southern independence, in which almost 99% of southerners voted to split with the north.

Athor launched his rebellion last year after claiming he was cheated in an election for the governorship of Jonglei state, the south's most populous.

Kuol said that those still in the area feared there would be repeat attacks.

"Survivors are still exposed to the same danger," an emotional Kuol said. "Our people are terrified, depressed and traumatised."

Athor's men signed a January ceasefire with the southern army shortly before the landmark referendum, but he himself stayed away from the signing ceremony in the regional capital Juba.

Southern officials have accused him of using the ceasefire period to recruit more fighters.

On Wednesday, the south's ruling party accused northern authorities of arming Athor and other rebels.

The north dismissed the accusation and renewed its own charges that southerners were backing Darfur rebel groups.

Analysts have said that maintaining security in the fledgling southern nation, which is due to win international recognition in July, will be a major challenge.