Khartoum — Reports from South Sudan indicate that 66 people have been killed in fighting between factions of Sudan's northern army over whether they and their weapons should transfer to the north.
While initial reports from the fighting which broke out on Thursday in Malakal town, capital of the Upper Nile State, showed that by Saturday 28 people had died as the violence spread to other parts of the state.
County commissioners from the areas affected have told Sudan Tribune that scores have been killed and wounded in the fighting.
Deng Akuei Kak, commissioner of Renk County in an interview with Sudan Tribune said the internal rebellion within the northern aligned Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in the southern of Upper Nile state over the ownership of weapons and whether they will relocate to the north has resulted in the death of many people.
"A lot of people, mainly innocent civilians have been frightened. Many lives and properties have been lost. Civilians became the victims in the cross fire because some of the armed elements extended the fight to their settlements from military bases. A lot have died in yesterday's clash and many more have also been wounded. Civilians are in dangerous situation", described commissioner Kak.
He called for immediate military intervention and removal of the SAF to avoid resumption of armed confrontations in the area between the two sides. "We do not need another war in the south. We have had enough wars to initiate another. These wars have ended with referendum results. We need peaceful transition. We would like to see a transition take place in an orderly and peaceful manner without having any negative sudden impact on the overall peace and stability in this region," said commissioner Kak.
The SAF soldiers had been ordered to transfer to northern Sudan after the south voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum in January.
Kak said the fighting in Paloch, which involved heavy artillery and machine guns, claimed many lives and has created panic among the populations and paralyzed the operations of the oil companies and daily activities of the businesses.
"I believe that all [those] responsible will do everything to ensure stability in the area, especially at this time that our civilians are eagerly waiting to celebrate final results of the referendum [on Monday], " he said
Akuoc Teng Diing commissioner of Melut County in a separate interview with Sudan Tribune confirmed that a lot of lives have been lost in both Melut and Paloch. He said the fighting within SAF were groups allied to Gabriel Tanginye [AKA Tang] broke out Saturday at 8:30am in Paloch and again at 9:45am and continued until 10:00am at Melut headquarters.
"In Paloch, 11 soldiers were killed and 8 others were wounded on both sides. In Melut, 19 soldiers were killed and 18 others wounded on both sides. This adds up the number of the death toll to 30 soldiers killed in action in both Paloch and Melut. The number of those wounded as I said earlier that 8 sustained injuries in Paloch and 18 in Melut reached 26 soldiers".
"This is what we have at the movement and there have never been renewed clashes today. The Sudan People's Liberation Army, the SPLA, have intervened and have restored order. The situation now is relatively calm. People have resumed their normal duties. Shops in Melut are open and people are happy in the town. They are waiting to celebrate final referendum results tomorrow", explained commissioner Diing.
Joshua Wango Aman, commissioner of Maban County also in an interview told Sudan Tribune that 8 soldiers on the side of the SAF are reported to have been killed and six others sustained severe injuries.
"They (SAF elements) clashed yesterday morning here four times. The fighting broke out at exactly 10:45am and continued until 5:00 o'clock in the evening. It was a heavy fighting. They used heavy artilleries and other heavy machine guns", commissioner Aman told Sudan tribune by phone on Sunday.
Aman said initial clash saw the death of 3 soldiers and 2 were wound. "The initial clashes were not serious. Only 3 soldiers on the side of Sudan Armed Forces from the north were killed and 2 others sustained injuries. "That was the beginning of the fighting. It begun to intensify itself at 2:00pm, resulting into the death of five others and wounding of additional six soldiers still on the side of Sudan Armed Forces members from the North", explained Aman.
Peter Lam Both, minister of information, communications and broadcasting service from the government of Upper Nile State, also, in the release seen by Sudan Tribune on Sunday, corroborated the figures of those killed and wounded in the three locations of Melut, Paloch and Maban but made no mention of casualties in Nasir county, where there are reports that fighteing has also broken out.
He said there were injuries on the side SAF members from the south involved in the clash against their northern colleagues. There were no injuries on the southern SAF he said. The minister said that SPLA forces in Maban found 18 lost soldiers Sudan Armed Forces from the North yesterday on Saturday, seven others this morning and two more this afternoon on Sunday.
"There are still missing northern soldiers in Maban. We ask all our people in the villages to treat them kindly if they find them and to report their presence immediately to the local authorities in the area so that they can be brought to safety. We believe that majority of the lost soldiers might have already crossed to Blue Nile State", which is across the border in north Sudan.
"There are no civilian casualties in the entire three areas," said minister Both. He reiterated that the Government of South Sudan, and its army the SPLA, were not taking part in the fighting.
"This is SAF JIU problem within itself and our role is to ensure that they do not fight; but if they do, we make sure that they are cared for and brought to safety. These are the details we have so far", he concluded in his release.
The fighting SAF soldiers are members of Joint Integrated Units (JIU's) formed as part of a 2005 north-south peace deal. Now that the south has voted for independence the units are being expanded. In Upper Nile much of SAF contingent in JIU's is taken up by militia who fought with Khartoum against the SPLA during the civil war.
Colonel Phillip Aguer Panyang, spokesman of the Sudan People's Liberation Army in an interview with Sudan Tribune from the regional capital of Juba said he has not received any reports suggesting other clashes on Sunday.
"Today is a peace day in Upper Nile State. We did not receive any report of another clash to have taken place in any of three locations affected on Saturday. Calm has been restored by the SPLA forces there. Our forces in the SPLA, along with the United Nations peacekeepers, have succeeded in creating a buffer zone between the two sides and to bring the situation to an end," Aguer said.
Both Colonel Aguer and minister Lam Both believed that the fighting was caused in all locations was caused by a dispute over the ownership and return of military weapons to the north.
The minister said one group from the SAF who believed to be from the south wants to "keep their artilleries in South Sudan because they were given to them during the war and that they think they should not be returned to the north but should remain with them."