January 6, 2011 / 5:36 AM / in 7 years

South Sudan fighters sign truce ahead of independence vote

JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - The army of southern Sudan signed a ceasefire with a renegade general’s fighters on Wednesday, easing one potential source of instability days before the region votes in a referendum on its independence.

<p>Officials from the South Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) speak with a voter during the fourth day of registration for the January 9, 2011 referendum on the independence of south Sudan, at a registration point in the southern Sudanese city of Juba November 18, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer</p>

George Athor, a former senior officer in southern Sudan’s army, was the last major guerrilla leader fighting against the authorities who control what could become Africa’s newest independent country.

Athor, believed to be holed up in remote Jonglei state, sent a delegation which signed the truce late on Wednesday in a hotel in regional capital Juba. His forces had killed scores of troops since he rebelled against the south’s government, after accusing officials of perpetrating fraud in elections in April.

“We are very grateful to George Athor for his tireless efforts to make this ceasefire a success,” said officer Michael Majur, speaking on behalf of the southern army, the SPLA. “I would like to thank him wherever he his.”

Voting begins on January 9 in the referendum on independence for Sudan’s south, the culmination of a peace process that began in 2005 and ended Africa’s longest civil war.

The oil-producing but poor south has seen insecurity from tribal clashes, unruly soldiers and anti-government militias, feeding fears it may struggle to go it alone.

Athor’s delegation said the truce proved the south could survive independence and not threaten regional security.

“We want to assure people in the region that we can take the task to solve our own problems, and to establish peace in south Sudan,” said Abraham Thon, speaking for Athor.

South Sudan’s leader Salva Kiir offered in October to pardon Athor, and both sides had agreed to keep out of each other’s way until negotiations were concluded. Two weeks ago, the southern army accused Athor’s forces of laying an ambush for them that killed 20 soldiers and wounded 50 others.

Sudan’s north-south war was fuelled by differences over religion, ethnicity, oil and ideology. It killed an estimated 2 million people, forced 4 million to flee and destabilised much of East Africa.

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