Renegade militia flees S Sudan oil state

2010-06-09 15:26

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Khartoum - South Sudan's army said on Wednesday it had chased a renegade militia commander out of his base in oil-producing Unity state, but warned he could be planning a counter-attack backed by Khartoum.

Galwak Gai is one of at least three militia leaders who are angry at alleged fraud in the April national election and have taken up arms against south Sudan's government, raising fears for the stability of the territory and surrounding region.

Southern leaders have accused Khartoum of arming militia to destabilise the region before a referendum on whether the south should split away as an independent country. The vote is to be held in January 2011.

Analysts say southerners, embittered by decades of war and perceived northern exploitation, want to secede, while the north is keen to keep control of the south's oilfields.

North Sudanese authorities, who fought the south in Africa's longest civil war before a 2005 peace deal, have repeatedly denied giving support to the new rebellions.

"We have chased Galwak Gai out of Unity ... The organised force that followed him is dismantled and we can conclude the rebellion of Galwak in Unity state is over temporarily," said Kuol Diem Kuol, spokesperson for south Sudan's army (SPLA).

Kuol said it had killed 21 of Gai's fighters and captured 35 since it started hunting for his forces in Unity in late May.

Gai managed to slip out of Unity with more than 50 followers on Monday night and was last seen heading towards the oil- producing area of Heglig, said Kuol.

Heglig, which is also claimed by some southerners, is in north Sudan's state of Southern Kordofan.

Kuol said it was possible north Sudanese authorities might try to build up another militia for Gai. "Should they do it again they will find the SPLA waiting for him."

No one was immediately available for comment from north Sudan's army. Gai's satellite phone was switched off.

Both the Unity and the Heglig oil fields are operated by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a consortium led by China's CNPC.

George Athor, a southern general who complained of fraud after losing in the election, told Reuters last week he was coordinating attacks with Gai and another renegade David Yauyau.

Athor is based in Unity's neighbouring Jonglei state where French group Total holds a largely unexplored oil concession.

Sudan's north-south war claimed 2 million lives, mostly through hunger and disease, and destabilised much of east Africa. Both the elections and the referendum were promised in the 2005 peace deal that ended the fighting and set up a semi- autonomous southern government.

Read more on:    sudan  |  east africa
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