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Nine people killed in Sudan attack

Two rebel groups have clashed with Southern Sudan's military ahead of the region's independence referendum, resulting in at least nine deaths, with a top security chief saying he suspected the groups were trying to depress voter turnout.

Southern Sudan begins voting on Sunday in a week-long independence referendum which is likely to see Africa's largest country split in two. In order for the referendum to pass, a simple majority must vote for independence and 60% of the 3.9 million registered voters must cast ballots.

The attacks against the Southern People's Liberation Army, or SPLA, happened over the past two days.

"Why is it happening now? The intention or the motive behind must be undermining the referendum," said General Acuil Tito Madut, the inspector-general of the south's police. "Once these fights break out in these states that will mean some people will not vote, and once people don't vote that means the required percentage is not achieved."

Southern army spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer said forces loyal to rebel leader Gatluak Gai attacked SPLA forces in Unity State, an oil-rich area bordering northern Sudan. He said six rebels died in the exchanges.

Jonglei state, meanwhile, saw deadly clashes between men commanded by militia leader David Yauyau and the southern military, said Gen Madut. One civilian was among those killed, he said.

Gen Madut said 32 rebels from Gai's group were captured by the southern military and were being taken to Juba, the southern capital, to be interrogated about who is behind the group. He said the men were captured with 30 AK-47 assault rifles, one machine gun and one rocket-propelled grenade.

Southern Sudan suffered through decades of internal strife while it was at war with the north. It has worked in recent weeks to strike peace deals with armed southern dissidents, but Gai's and Yauyau's rebels have not yet reconciled.

If it passes, the referendum will split Africa's biggest country between the mostly Arab and Muslim north, and the mostly black and Christian or animist south.

Southern Sudan would then be on track to become the world's newest country in July.

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