South Sudan cattle raid - 82 dead

Khartoum - A south Sudan rebel group carried out a cattle raid in Warrap state that left 82 people dead, including women and children, a southern army spokesperson said on Tuesday, the latest deadly violence to afflict the nation in waiting.

Militiamen, under the leadership of Philip Bepan, attacked the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in neighbouring Unity state on Saturday, SPLA spokesperson Philip Aguer told AFP.

"They were chased away and went to Warrap state, where they attacked cattle camps on May 8, at a place called Balhom Weth. They killed 34 and wounded 45 civilians, including women and children," he said.

"On the same day they were returning with the looted cattle, they were ambushed by the cattle herders. Forty-eight of the militia were killed and 48 of their new AK-47 rifles were taken," he added.

South Sudan, due to become independent in July, is reeling from a string of battles between its SPLA and various militia groups since January's largely peaceful independence referendum.

Aguer said Bepan was working for southern army general-turned-rebel-leader Peter Gadet, who is based in oil-rich Unity state, and whom the army accuses of working for and being supplied by its former civil war foes in north Sudan.

Heavy fighting

Gadet's forces clashed with the SPLA last month, leaving more than 100 people dead and forcing oil workers out of the volatile area, causing production to drop.

A spokesperson for Gadet's group said more than 100 people had been killed in heavy clashes on Sunday, but gave a different account of his group's involvement in the fighting, which he said took place in Unity state.

"The SPLA attacked our forces in the Mayom area... There was very heavy fighting. We were able to control the area and fight them back," Bol Gatkouth said.

"About 94 SPLA soldiers died... We had about 27 injured and lost 11 people," he added.

The rebel spokesperson admitted that Bepan was one of Gadet's senior commanders, who had also defected from the SPLA. He he rejected allegations that the militia had any links to Khartoum and denied its involvement in any fighting in Warrap state.

"These are communities fighting against each other," he said.

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