At least 57 people are dead and some 100 injured after clashes between militiamen and local soldiers in the southern Sudanese town of Malakal. As many has half of the dead are civilians.
Fighting erupted in the volatile town after the unexpected arrival last week of General Gabriel Tang Ginye. The military officer is allied with the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and wanted by the South Sudan government for instigating clashes in the same region two years ago that killed at least 150 people. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir issued an arrest warrant for Tang in 2006.
John Ashworth, a Sudanese expert and commentator, was in Malakal when clashes erupted. Ashworth said six men in military uniform arrived at the house where he was staying and looted his group at gunpoint in the middle of the night. He reported that fighting in the town "raged with tanks, artillery, and small arms."
South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar rushed to Malakal from a meeting with northern government officials in Khartoum. Machar said he persuaded Tang to leave town and negotiated a ceasefire between SAF troops and local military forces.
Despite a 2005 peace agreement between South Sudan and the Khartoum-based government in the north, Malakal remains volatile: The town sits next to the north-south border and close to some of the richest oil fields in the country.
The fighting comes less than four months before South Sudan is scheduled to hold pivotal elections to determine whether the region will form its own nation. The clashes also come just prior to the International Criminal Court's expected announcement of an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes against civilians in the country's western region of Darfur.
Franklin Graham, president of Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse, is scheduled to meet with Bashir Tuesday to discuss efforts to deliver aid to those displaced and oppressed by years of civil war. Graham will also meet with officials from the U.S. embassy in Sudan and travel to a displacement camp in Darfur. Graham urged President Barack Obama to remain focused on helping Sudanese officials implement the 2005 north-south peace agreement: "Setbacks now could have long-term consequences."