Sudanese rebels shelled the capital of the country’s main oil state on Tuesday, witnesses said, in what the insurgents said was retaliation for Sudanese government air strikes.
The spokesman for Sudan’s armed forces did not respond to phone calls seeking comment, but Sudanese television reported five civilians were killed in the shelling.
Fighting has raged across Sudan’s South Kordofan State since June last year when rebels and government forces started clashing shortly before South Sudan declared independence.
The violence in South Kordofan and nearby Blue Nile State, which both border South Sudan, has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, and aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis in the region as food supplies run low.
The rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army North (SPLA-N) started attacking state capital Kadugli on Tuesday afternoon, SPLA-N spokesman Arnu Lodi said.
The shelling was an act of “self-defense, especially after the continuing air strikes by government forces on SPLA-N positions and on civilians,” he told reporters.
Lodi said the rebels targeted only military sites and that they had warned civilians to stay away from those areas.
Witnesses confirmed that several shells landed in Kadugli on Tuesday.
South Sudan split from Sudan in July last year under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
SPLA-N had fought alongside the southern insurgents during that conflict, but the partition has left them in Sudanese territory.
The insurgents now say they are fighting to protect their ethnic minorities from oppression, while Khartoum accuses them of trying to spread chaos at South Sudan’s behest.
South Sudan denies supporting the SPLA-N, but the charges have nevertheless complicated talks between Juba and Khartoum over unresolved issues.