Militia boss surrenders as 160 die in Sudan

A TOP militia chief has surrendered in south Sudan after clashes that killed more than 160 people, the army said yesterday, as the soon-to-be independent nation reels from a string of bloody battles.

The deaths over the past week have come in fighting between the south’s army and two separate militia groups, pushing the number of those killed to almost 1,000 since January and prompting president Salva Kiir to renew his call for reconciliation.

“Gabriel Tang and around 1,300 of his men surrendered peacefully,” said Malaak Ayuen, spokesman for the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

“They have been received in a friendly way and are being treated with respect,” he said.

On Saturday, 57 gunmen led by Tang in northern Jonglei state were killed in a shootout with SPLA troops, before fleeing into the surrounding bush, Ayuen said.

Seven SPLA soldiers also died in the battle, he added, while more than 70 wounded soldiers and civilians were reported to be receiving treatment in hospital.

Tang commanded a pro-Khartoum militia during Sudan’s devastating 1983-2005 civil war between the north and south, in which about two million people died, but he agreed to join the southern army late last year.

Saturday’s fighting broke out after arguments over the militia’s formal integration, with troops reluctant to relocate to the southern capital Juba, Ayuen said.

“Tensions were very high, but no one intended to fight,” said Ayuen, who said the forces who surrendered would still join the army.

“It has been regretted by all, because the forces were actually joining the SPLA.”

Last week, four days of clashes between the army and rebels led by former southern general Peter Gadet in key oil-producing Unity state left “at least 100 dead,” according to the SPLA spokesman.

“There were three significant clashes with heavy fighting but the rebels have now retreated,” Ayuen said.

However, rebels have said they are preparing fresh attacks in the region, close to the still disputed north-south border.

The violence also forced the evacuation of 130 northern oil industry workers back to the north.

Officials have said almost 4,000 civilians fled the fighting in Unity state, adding to the 94,000 already forced from their homes since Januarybecause of violence, according to UN estimates.

At least seven militia groups, including Tang’s, have been battling the southern government since January, when southerners voted overwhelmingly to split with the north in a largely peaceful referendum.

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