NAIROBI (Reuters) - Sudanese rebels said Tuesday they had killed 244 government soldiers and captured three tanks after ambushing a convoy escorting oil company equipment near the country's oil fields.
The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) said it had ambushed and destroyed a large enemy convoy between the villages of Wankai and Mayom in Unity state in the south of the country.
``We are determined to shut down the oil exploration in south Sudan,'' SPLA spokesman Samson Kwaje told Reuters. ``We are not going to allow more equipment to come into the oil fields for exploration.''
The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for greater autonomy for Sudan's mainly Christian and animist south, against the Islamist government in Khartoum.
They have often threatened to disrupt oil extraction by foreign oil companies in parts of southern Sudan which they claim as their territory, saying the oil revenues are financing the government's war effort.
They said the battle had raged for more than five hours on Friday, June 8, with the government deploying three helicopter gunships and two Antonov bombers as air support.
``Two hundred and forty-four enemy soldiers were killed and the remainder scattered in the bushes,'' they said in a statement. There was no independent confirmation of the report.
As well as the tanks, the SPLA said they had captured two armored personnel carriers, four bulldozers, 46 heavy duty trucks, and 21 pick-up trucks belonging to a foreign oil firm.
Several foreign oil companies are pumping and drilling for oil in the region, including Canada's Talisman Energy, Sweden's Lundin Oil and the China National Petroleum Corporation. The SPLA declined to say who owned the equipment.
President Gen. Omar el-Bashir, speaks to thousands from the Trade Unions Federation outside the Republican Palace Thursday, June 7, 2001, in Khartoum, Sudan. El-Bashir on Thursday vowed to defeat mainly Christian rebels in southern Sudan through a jihad (holy war). El-Bashir's call came two days after the state minister of foreign affairs urged the international community to pressure rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army to agree to a cease-fire that would end the country's 18-year civil war. The SPLA rebels have been fighting since 1983 to end what they see as the domination of the Muslim and Arabized north over the mainly animist and Christian south. (AP Photo/Abdel Raouf)
- Jun 07 12:18 PM ET