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Sudan rebels kill 17 civilians: state media

Members of the SPLA have battled the Sudanese army in South Kordofan since early June (© 2009 AFP)

Rebels fighting Sudanese troops in the ethnically divided border state of South Kordofan killed 17 civilians, some of them children, state media reported.

“Seventeen civilians were killed on Thursday, including children, and 14 wounded, including a number of women, in attacks by the SPLA in the areas of Um Dahilib and Murung, in the Kalugi region of South Kordofan state,” the official SUNA news agency reported late on Friday.

Members of the northern branch of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which fought with the southern former rebels during their devastating 22-year war with Khartoum and have battled the Sudanese army in South Kordofan since early June, were not immediately available for comment.

The SUNA report said the most deadly fighting took place in Murung, where 16 people were killed and 11 wounded.

It described the attacks as a rejection of the ceasefire declared by President Omar al-Bashir last month, and quoted the state governor Ahmed Harun denouncing the conduct of the SPLA, whom he accused of targeting unarmed citizens.

Harun, who like Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes in Darfur, said the remnants of the SPLA had been driven out of the region.

On August 23, Bashir declared a two-week ceasefire in South Kordofan.

But his government was accused shortly afterwards of failing to honour its pledge and came under heavy criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups for limiting humanitarian access to those affected by the conflict.

On Friday, fighting erupted in Blue Nile state, another ethnically divided state on the north-south border where the SPLA had a large number of fighters during the civil war.

Khartoum has sought to reassert its authority within its new borders since South Sudan’s recognition as the world’s newest independent state on July 9, moving to disarm troops outside its control.

The foreign ministry said on Saturday that, according the 2005 peace agreement that ended the north-south conflict and paved the way for southern secession, all SPLA troops should withdraw south of the border.

“This is not a Sudanese movement,” Rahmatallah Mohamed Osman, the foreign ministry’s undersecretary, told reporters.

“What happened in Blue Nile was an attack against Sudan,” he added.

Blue Nile and South Kordofan are located north of Sudan’s new international border, and their residents are Sudanese citizens.

But they both have large numbers of SPLM-North supporters and troops loyal to Sudan’s main opposition party, which fought alongside the southern former rebels.

The Sudanese army’s insistence on expelling or forcibly disarming SPLA elements in South Kordofan is what appears to have triggered the outbreak of fighting in June.

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