South Sudan: SPLA and Athor clashes 'kill scores'

Prison officer being treated after clashes with Mr Athor's fighters
Image caption Hundreds have been killed and injured in clashes with George Athor's men this year

Two days of fighting between the South Sudan army and rebels have killed about 70 people, officials say.

The clashes between the SPLA and fighters loyal to rebel leader George Athor have broken out in three states.

After similar clashes last week, the southern government accused the north and President Omar al-Bashir of trying to destabilise it.

South Sudan is due to declare independence in July, following decades of north-south conflict.

Some 99% of South Sudanese voters backed secession in January's referendum, which was part of a 2005 peace deal.

"The fighting was very heavy, but the rebels are now being pursued," said SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer, reports the AFP news agency.

He said 34 SPLA soldiers and 36 rebels had been killed.

Fighting broke out in Unity and Upper Nile states on Thursday, before continuing in Jonglei state on Friday, Col Aguer said.

The SPLA has been trying to track down the rebel forces who carried out a raid on the major town of Malakal last week.

Following that attack, the SPLA southern government said it was suspending talks with the north about secession.

It accused the northern military intelligence of arming southern militias in order to topple the SPLA.

The north denied the charges and President Bashir has repeatedly said he will accept the independence of the oil-rich south.

Gen Athor went into rebellion after losing last April's election to be governor of Jonglei state, which he contested as an independent candidate.

His group signed a ceasefire just before the referendum but fighting resumed in February and hundreds have been killed.

His rebellion appears to be spreading, and represents a growing concern for the southern authorities as they prepare for independence, correspondents say.

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