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South Sudan rebel clash death toll nears 200

Around 200 people were killed in south Sudan's rebel attack

AFP , Tuesday 15 Feb 2011

Almost 200 people died in a rebel attack in south Sudan last week, the secretary general of the south’s ruling party said on Tuesday, nearly double an earlier death toll.

"We lost 197 of our people in Fangak county as a result of a heinous attack by George Athor’s forces on a defenceless civilian population," said Pagan Amum, secretary general of the ex-rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). "It was a massacre of our people."

Last Wednesday, troops loyal to renegade southern general Athor attacked soldiers in the south's Sudan People's Liberation Army, shattering a "permanent ceasefire" they signed just last month.

The updated toll follows a government assessment mission to the region.

Southern army spokesman Philip Aguer confirmed the death toll had risen, adding there had been no new clashes since fighting ended last Thursday.

"The numbers have risen from what was initially reported," said Aguer, who did not have exact figures. "There were many civilians killed in the fighting who we were not initially aware of."

The attacks come just days after the formal confirmation of the results of the January 9-15 referendum on southern independence, in which almost 99 percent of southerners voted to secede from the north and split Africa's largest country in two.

"All this has happened after the most peaceful referendum by the people of southern Sudan to determine their future," Amum said.

There was no immediate response from Athor when AFP tried to contact him by telephone. But last week, speaking to the independent Sudan Radio Service, he accused the SPLA of starting the attacks.

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.

Athor's men signed the January ceasefire with the southern army just days 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.

South Sudan has repeatedly accused Athor and his men of acting on behalf of Khartoum in a bid to destabilise the region, a charge northern officials have denied.

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