KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Days of fighting between former rebels and government forces killed more than 150 people and wounded at least 400 in a southern Sudanese town, a U.N. official said Saturday.

The battle was one of the worst breaches of a January 2005 peace agreement that ended 21 years of civil war in the south, a conflict separate from the ethnic bloodletting in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

Aid workers said the fighting began when a government-allied militia tried to kill a local leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Malakal, a port town about 400 miles south of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.

The former rebels retaliated, and large-scale fighting erupted Tuesday, with the two sides using artillery, tanks and armored personnel carriers.

The former rebels captured Malakal’s airport before U.N. officials brokered a cease-fire Friday.

The U.N. mission in Sudan appealed for volunteer nurses and supplies to cope with 400 to 500 wounded fighters and civilians.

The mission said bodies were strewn in the Nile River, one of the main sources of drinking water for the town of about 150,000 people.

“There are over 150 dead,” said Peter Maxwell, the field manager in Malakal for the U.N. mission.

Aid workers said most of the dead appeared to be combatants from both sides, but at least two dozen appeared to be civilians.

They said government forces and former rebels were separately collecting their dead.

Maxwell said U.N. peacekeepers were patrolling the town and described the situation as “fairly calm” since Friday’s cease-fire.

“There are many indicators that life is approaching something normal,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

But international observers in Malakal said both the army and former rebels were massing forces, and worried the truce might not hold, especially if the army tried to reclaim the airport.

The observers spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Sudanese military had no comment on the violence.

U.N. officials expressed concern about contamination of the Nile in an area where cholera outbreaks are common.

“Though United Nations peacekeepers have provided critical support to the Malakal government to dispose of the dead, the Nile remains contaminated by bodies as a result of the fighting,” the U.N. mission said in a statement.

Malakal has remained volatile despite the peace accord between Sudan’s Muslim government in the north and the mostly Christian rebels in the south. The town lies next to Sudan’s north-south boundary and close to some of the country’s richest oil fields.

Nonessential U.N. staff and most aid workers have been evacuated.

Some 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers are in southern Sudan to monitor the peace agreement and help reconstruct the ravaged region.

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