, JUBA, Aug 12 – Violence in south Sudan is due to a "resource" war over cattle and not internal political or ethnic differences, the southern army\’s chief of staff said.
"We don’t have tribalism in south Sudan," said James Hoth, of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA), the former rebel forces turned official southern military.
"What we have is a war of resources. People just want more cows," said Hoth, speaking to a crowded lecture hall of university students in Juba late on Wednesday.
At least 700 people have been killed and more than 152,000 forced from their homes due to violence in the south since January, according to UN estimates.
Last year about 2,500 people were killed in southern Sudan — a higher toll than in the troubled western region of Darfur — and more than 350,000 people fled their homes.
"Armed civilians are killing people for a small gain, not because they have a political vision," added Hoth, speaking at the launch of a book he co-authored with Kuol Deng Abot, the director of the south’s security and intelligence agency.
But he also admitted southern politicians were to blame in some cases, sparking conflict to get a "dividend" before stopping the fighting.
"Politicians also put their hand into these conflicts. Here in Juba, because someone wants to be minister, sometimes they throw a war to their clan," Hoth said.
South Sudan is still recovering from decades of war with the north, during which about two million people were killed in a conflict fuelled by religion, ethnicity, ideology and resources, including oil.
The south is expected in January 2011 to vote in a referendum set up under a 2005 peace deal, which promised it the chance to choose independence or to remain part of a united Sudan.
Hoth and Abot\’s book, "Liberation Struggle in South Sudan," was written as part of the generals\’ masters theses at South Africa’s Fort Hare university, and looks at ways to boost conflict resolution between former warring groups in the south.
However, Hoth also repeated accusations that former enemies in north Sudan were working to destablise the south ahead of the referendum.
"We are fighting a proxy war. Khartoum is not sleeping," Hoth said, citing the example of a helicopter captured on Sunday.
The helicopter’s passengers are accused of supporting George Athor, a senior southern officer who began a rebellion in April after losing the gubernatorial race in Jonglei state.
The south has accused "quarters" in Khartoum of seeking to destabilise the region ahead of its referendum.
Khartoum has repeatedly rejected the allegations, but tensions remain high between the mainly Muslim north and the south, whose people are largely Christian or follow traditional religions.
"The Khartoum government wants the south to be in turmoil," added Hoth. "They are telling the international community that the south is not ready to govern itself."
However, Hoth said he was optimistic about the future and that the referendum would go ahead as planned. "Nobody will stop the referendum, nobody," he said. "South Sudan will be a viable state."