By Opheera McDoom
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese militia have killed 17 people in the oil-producing South Kordofan region just two weeks before long-delayed elections, a candidate for state governor said on Thursday.
Gubernatorial and state assembly polls have been disputed at every stage and are due be held on May 2. The region witnessed some of the heaviest north-south fighting during decades of civil war and is hotly contested between the ruling parties in north and south Sudan.
Khartoum's dominant National Congress Party (NCP) is fielding Ahmed Haroun as its candidate for governor, a man accused by the International Criminal Court of coordinating brutal militias during a counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur. Many doubt he will be elected since he is not from the area.
The south's ruling SPLM says his role has been to mobilize and arm militiamen, who have been attacking its supporters to deter them from voting.
"Ahmed Haroun is notorious. He is using the (militia) to destabilize and scare the local population," Abdelaziz el-Helu, the SPLM's candidate for governor told Reuters by telephone from the state.
"Yesterday his (militia) were directed to attack civilians in el-Faid town. They managed to burn over 350 houses. More than 17 people were killed and the situation is very tense."
South Sudan accounts for about 75 percent of Sudan's oil output of 500,000 barrels per day and it voted to become an independent country in July. Most of the north's oil reserves have been discovered in South Kordofan.
The NCP was unable to immediately comment on the reports.
One U.N. source said there had been violence in el-Faid village in South Kordofan which had caused casualties but could provide no details.
Helu accused the NCP of massing troops in the state, of which the Satellite Sentinel Project, set up by activists to monitor troop movements in flashpoint areas, says it has satellite images.
"With Ahmed Haroun in power in South Kordofan and the NCP in power in Khartoum they will turn South Kordofan into hell on earth, attack the people and declare war here," Helu added.
The rest of Sudan held multi-level elections in April 2010, in which the NCP and SPLM won huge victories in the north and south respectively, with observers noting intimidation, irregularities and harassment.
The Carter Center international electoral observer mission voiced concern last month at the low registration for the South Kordofan votes and the lack of voter education, urging the election commission to ensure voting went ahead smoothly.
Sudan's north-south civil war which ended in 2005 after decades of fighting over differences over religion, ethnicity, ideology and oil, cost about 2 million lives.
(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)