South Sudan rebels break ceasefire
Juba - At least 16 people died when rebels attacked south Sudanese troops in troubled Jonglei state, breaking a ceasefire signed last month, a southern army spokesperson said on Thursday.
"We are still waiting for full details of the casualties," said Philip Aguer, spokesperson for the south's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), adding that he feared the death toll would rise.
"The rebels launched their attacks on Wednesday at 13:00 (10:00 GMT) killing four of our soldiers, but the army fought back and 12 of the attackers were killed," Aguer told AFP.
The clashes shattered a "permanent ceasefire" signed between the rebels and the SPLA in January, just days before a landmark referendum on independence for the south. Rebel leader George Athor did not himself attend the signing ceremony in the regional capital Juba.
"The violation of the deal is something that is very disappointing," Aguer said.
"Indeed, we were surprised by the attack, because the SPLA were busy transporting food to the sites of assembly, where the men of Athor are due to gather under the terms of the agreement."
Athor is a renegade southern general who launched a rebellion after claiming he was cheated in governorship elections last April in Jonglei, south Sudan's most populous state.
Officials have charged he has used the ceasefire period to recruit more fighters.
The rebels attacked two sites in Fangak county, including the main Fangak town, in the north of Jonglei state. Aguer said the fighting lasted for about three hours until the SPLA took control of the situation.
"The attackers also planted anti-vehicle mines which blew up two SPLA trucks," the spokesperson said.
The attacks come just days after the formal confirmation of the results of the January 9-15 independence referendum, which showed almost 99% of southerners voted to secede and split Africa's largest country in two.
Previously the southern army had accused Athor and his men of acting on behalf of Khartoum in a bid to destabilise the south, a charge northern officials have denied.
Analysts have said that maintaining security in the fledgling southern nation will be a major challenge.
Clashes in oil-producing Upper Nile state earlier this month killed 54 people and wounded 85, according to United Nations estimates, when southern former militiamen inside the northern army rebelled against orders to surrender their heavy weapons.
On Wednesday, a gunman shot dead southern minister Jimmy Lemi Milla in his office, an attack reported to be motivated by a personal dispute.