A Southern Sudanese official says 20 people were killed in a village attack in which an advocacy group says satellite images show more than 350 structures were burned, and officials said Wednesday that three people died in a separate incident after their vehicle struck a land mine near a disputed region.
The Satellite Sentinel Project, a group backed by actor George Clooney, said Monday that analysis of images taken by DigitalGlobe indicated that at least 356 structures had been burnt at el-Feid village in the Nuba Mountains of southern Kordofan state. Kordofan is scheduled to hold an election for state governor in May.
Southern Sudan has seen a sharp increase in violence since a January referendum in which the region voted to secede from the north. The referendum was part of a 2005 peace deal ending a two-decade civil war that cost some 2 million lives. Southern Sudan is scheduled to become independent in July.
The two front-runners in the governor's race _ incumbent Ahmed Haroun and Abdelaziz al-Hilu _ blamed each other for the attack.
Al-Hilu, who is backed by Southern Sudan's government, accused a militia aligned with the northern government and under Haroun's command, the Popular Defense Force, of attacking el-Feid and the nearby village of Um Barmbita on April 13. According to the Satellite Sentinel Project, al-Hilu also alleged that attackers burned between 300 to 500 houses and reportedly killed more than 20 people, including women and children.
The Associated Press was not able to independently confirm the death toll.
The project said Sudan's ruling party denied the accusation, saying the Sudan People's Liberation Movement instigated the attack to stoke tensions.
Haroun is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of war crimes for his role in the ongoing conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur.
Last month, the project reported around 300 buildings had been burned in a village near the town of Abyei, a disputed area between north and south Sudan that is the most contentious issue between the two regions. Abyei has seen a wave of attacks in recent days that have killed more than 100 people and sent tens of thousands of people fleeing the area.
In the latest violence, three people were killed when their truck hit a land mine near the contested Abyei region, local policeman Gatluak Bol said Wednesday.
The southern army spokesman, Col. Philip Aguer, accused Arab Misseriya tribesmen aligned with the northern government of the attack.
More than 800 people have been killed and 94,000 displaced because of violence in Southern Sudan this year, the U.N. said last week.
In a separate report, Human Rights Watch said soldiers from Southern Sudan's government fired indiscriminately at civilians and burned and looted homes, according to a research it conducted in Upper Nile state, near the north-south border.
The New York-based group said in a report released late Tuesday that the March 6-7 clashes between government soldiers and a rebel group in the village of Owachi killed more than 60 people, mostly civilians, and displaced more than 7,000 others. The rights group accuses both sides of committing human rights abuses, and said both sides stationed their forces close to civilian villages as tensions rose.
"If the Southern Sudan government wants a sustainable peace when it becomes fully independent in July, it should demonstrate its commitment now with a prompt and thorough investigation into human rights violations in Upper Nile," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director of Human Rights Watch. "Southern Sudan's government should show no tolerance for crimes against civilians by either side."
The southern military spokesman, Aguer, denied the report, urging its authors not "to receive lies from the air."
"That is not true," he told The Associated Press. "If anybody is alleging any violation of human rights, let them come and go and verify on the ground what happened."
Associated Press reporter Philip Mabior contributed to this report from Juba, Southern Sudan.