Khartoum, (Reuters) – At least 20 people were reported killed overnight in the Sudanese capital as clashes between northerners and southerners extended to a third day on Wednesday after the death of former southern rebel leader John Garang.
Violence in Khartoum erupted on Monday when angry southerners took to the streets after the official announcement of the death in a helicopter crash of Garang, who fought the northern government for two decades before making peace.
"There are quite a number of casualties and it”s quite serious," U.N. spokeswoman Radhia Achouri told Reuters.
Some southerners fear the absence of Garang, who was made Sudan”s first vice president last month, could weaken their hand in governing Africa”s largest country.
Sudan is divided between an Arabised Muslim north and the south that is a mix of African ethnicities with Christians, animists and Muslims.
A U.N. security briefing obtained by Reuters on Wednesday morning reported around 20 deaths overnight in Khartoum.
Police had said on Tuesday, before the overnight unrest, that 46 people had been killed.
The violence is the worst in Khartoum in years, although an official on Tuesday described the clashes as limited to outlying areas of the city and said the situation was under control.
Garang”s Sudan People”s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has urged calm and moved swiftly to replace Garang by appointing his deputy Salva Kiir, who analysts say may prove a more unifying figure among southern factions.
The United States has sent two envoys to Sudan to help ensure the peace deal that Garang struck with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir does not unravel.
Residents said gunshots and sirens could still be heard on Wednesday in some of Khartoum”s suburbs although the centre of the city was quiet with traffic moving normally on the streets, where armoured vehicles and soldiers stood guard.
William Ezekiel, editor of the daily Khartoum Monitor with close ties to the southern community, said residents reported that 47 were killed overnight in the Khartoum suburb of Mamoura and 15 were killed in the southern district of Kalakla.
Those reports could not immediately be verified.
Ezekiel said he could hear gun shots in Kalakla, where he lives. He also described groups of five to 10 men carrying sticks and knives and some with rifles, patrolling overnight despite a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. (1600 to 0300 GMT) curfew.
"They were shouting ”God is great, God is great,” and saying they were fighting the non-believers," he said.
Southern Sudanese killed the Imam of the local mosque in Kalakla, the U.N. briefing reported.
Other residents in Khartoum said two families were burnt to death in their homes and reported looting in the suburbs.
In Monday”s violence, southerners had rampaged through Khartoum looting shops and burning vehicles.
Garang was sworn in as first vice president on July 9, just three weeks before his death, as part of a peace deal signed in January. There has been no suggestion of foul play in the helicopter crash that killed him.
His funeral will be on Saturday in Juba in the south, after his body tours other towns in the area. On Tuesday, grieving relatives and supporters paid respects to Garang around a simple bed in a bush town.
The conflict in south Sudan began in 1983 when the Islamist Khartoum government tried to impose sharia Islamic law. Two million people were killed, mainly by hunger and disease.
The peace deal included giving southerners the right to vote on secession after a six-year interim period and shared out Sudan”s oil wealth between north and south roughly equally.
Sudan also faces continued civil strife in its western Darfur region, which has killed tens of thousands and forced around 2 million from their homes.