JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan's army said on Tuesday it had killed a prominent rebel leader near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, dealing a blow to insurgents who have threatened the security of the newly-independent nation.
South Sudan split away from Sudan in July under a peace deal that ended decades of civil war with Khartoum, but the young, oil-producing country has struggled with multiple armed uprisings.
George Athor, who left the south's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) saying the country's dominant party had rigged an election last year, was killed in Morobo Country in South Sudan's Central Equatoria state, SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said.
"George Athor was killed in Marobo country when he tried to enter South Sudan from Congo. He met with a clash with an SPLA patrol unit," Aguer said, adding that one SPLA soldier was killed and another wounded in the fighting.
He did not say when the clash took place.
James Nuot Puot, a spokesman for Athor's group, said he could not confirm the reports of his commander's death. Calls to Athor's satellite phone were not answered.
Sudan and South Sudan have both accused the other of backing rebel groups on either side of the tense and poorly-drawn border, complicating talks over unresolved issues like debt and oil.
Aguer said he believed Athor's death would be a major blow to the rebel militia but they would likely continue to fight. "The rebellion will not end, but it will be weaker," he said.
About 2 million people died in Sudan's civil war, waged for all but a few years from 1955 to 2005 over oil, ideology, religion and ethnicity.
(Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz and Ulf Laessing)