Six killed in S. Sudan clashes before referendum

Six people were killed in clashes between rebel militias and south Sudan's army on Friday and Saturday, the military said a day before a referendum in which the south is expected to vote for independence.

The attacks were a reminder of the deep rifts in the undeveloped south, which has been plagued by ethnic killings and cattle rustling raids.

Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) -- the southern army -- said his forces ambushed fighters loyal to militia leader Galwak Gai in Unity state on Friday and Gai's men launched a counter-attack on Saturday.

"They were coming from the north to disrupt the referendum. It is a known game. The spoilers are always here. They definitely came from Khartoum," he said.

Southern leaders have regularly accused north Sudan of backing militias to try and disrupt the referendum on whether the oil-producing south should declare independence. Northern leaders have dismissed the accusations.

Aguer said SPLA forces killed two of Gai's men and captured 26 on Friday, then killed four on Saturday.

Gai was among several militia leaders who rebelled after April elections, accusing the southern government of fraud.

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