May 11, 2010 / 12:10 PM / in 9 years

South Sudan renegade commander threatens main town

* Renegade south Sudan commander clashes with army

* Threatens main town in oil-producing region

* South Sudan to vote on secession in eight months



KHARTOUM, May 11 (Reuters) - A renegade south Sudan army commander said on Tuesday he had clashed with the oil-producing region’s military for a second time and threatened to attack an important town if the assault continued.

George Athor, who stood as an independent candidate in April elections for governor of Jonglei state and lost to the ruling party, has been on the run since late April, when the southern army (SPLA) accused him of ordering an attack on a barracks that killed eight soldiers.

"They were the ones attacking our base on Monday at 2:30 p.m. (1130 GMT)," Athor told Reuters by satellite phone from Jonglei, where French oil company Total (TOTF.PA) has a largely unexplored oil concession.

"We destroyed a number of vehicles and captured one mounted with an anti-aircraft gun," he added. "Our losses are three wounded and seven dead. The (SPLA) bodies we found are 36."

There was no independent confirmation of the report and the SPLA were not immediately available to comment.

Analysts fear the heavily armed south, which will vote on independence in eight months time, will secede and clashes over ethnicity, cattle raids and rival politicians could destabilise east Africa.

South Sudan is one of the world’s poorest regions after a north-south civil war which has raged on and off since 1955.

A peace deal in 2005 gave the south an autonomous government but observer groups said violence and intimidation had marred the elections last month that were supposed to enshrine a democratic transformation.

Athor said he was willing to negotiate but if the attacks continued he would attack Jonglei’s state capital Bor, adding he had military supporters all over the south who were joining him.

"We are organising our forces in all areas and we are going to converge in Bor ... attacking Bor," he said.

Athor said Monday’s attack happened 300 km (188 miles) north of Bor. He declined to say how many troops he had but the SPLA has estimated he has around 100 soldiers. (Reporting by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Giles Elgood)



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