Rebels accuse Khartoum-backed militia of killing 17 civilians

Tensions persist along border

Khartoum-backed militia in Sudan's South Kordofan state have killed 17 civilians, rebels said on Saturday, adding to tensions with South Sudan over a failure to implement security agreements.
The rebels accused a group of ethnic South Sudanese of ambushing a civilian lorry on Friday at Abu Nuwara, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the border with South Sudan's Upper Nile state.
"They clashed with the civilians there and there's a lot of casualties," said Arnu Ngutulu Lodi, spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) which has been fighting government forces in South Kordofan since June 2011.
In addition to the dead, 35 people were wounded, Lodi said, adding the incident occurred in a government-controlled area.
He blamed a militia linked to Lam Akol's Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Democratic Change (SPLM-DC), and threatened to retaliate.
"This is ridiculous," Akol said from Khartoum. "We don't have a militia."
He said the rebels in South Kordofan are "just parroting what their masters in Juba are saying."
SPLM-DC is South Sudan's main opposition party, a breakaway group from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement which has ruled the South since independence in 2011 after a 22-year civil war.
Khartoum accuses South Sudan of supporting the SPLM-North, and this has been a major obstacle for the failure of Sudan and South Sudan to implement the security and economic agreements signed in September.
Those deals called for a demilitarised buffer zone, designed to cut support for rebel forces, along the undemarcated frontier.
The pacts also allowed for a re-opening of boundaries for trade and passage, and a resumption of South Sudanese oil exports through northern pipelines.
Sudan has insisted the oil deal cannot go ahead until the security issue is addressed. The government in Juba in turn says Khartoum supports rebels on Southern territory.
Although South Sudan's army has labelled Akol's group a militia backed by Khartoum, "this link has not been demonstrated," the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based independent research project, said in a report.
With the September agreements unheeded, tensions have persisted along the border.
South Sudan's army last Sunday accused Sudan of launching a deadly air assault along the frontier in Upper Nile state, and on Monday local government officials in South Kordofan reportedly blamed South Sudanese militia for attacking nomads on the Sudanese side of the boundary.
Susan Rice, US ambassador to the United Nations, said on her Twitter account Friday that she believed Sudan and South Sudan were at a "crisis point" because of the Khartoum government's refusal to implement the September accords.