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South Sudan arrests opposition leader turned rebel

South Sudan has arrested a prominent opposition leader it claims was launching a guerrilla movement to topple the government, the new country’s military said on Friday.

Peter Abdelrahman Sule, chairman of the United Democratic Front party, was arrested on Thursday in a “secret camp of guerrillas” near Jambo county, Western Equatoria state, after a small unit of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army “stormed his hideout,” military spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP.

“They tried to resist and an exchange of fire took place” that killed two rebels and one SPLA soldier, Aguer said.

“He started recruiting for an armed rebellion. His recruitment included some members of the army, including one major who disappeared from SPLA headquarters three weeks ago.”

The major, whose first name was Emmanuel, was one of those killed in the shootout, while Sule “was arrested unharmed,” he added.

Aguer could not say how many suspected rebels were believed by South Sudan’s military intelligence to have been recruited by Sule in preparation for an attack on the government, but he claimed many were young men.

“The SPLA have been monitoring (Sule’s) covert actions from the time he was removed from the government of South Sudan one year ago,” he said.

It is unclear why South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir dropped Sule from his government, or who was supporting his group, but his alleged transformation into a rebel leader has come as a shock.

“Everyone is surprised... He fought along with us in the 21-year war and now he is launching a guerrilla war against the government of the Republic of South Sudan,” Aguer said.

“He’s supposed to be a political leader, so I don’t know what happened,” said Lam Akol, leader of the SPLM-DC, South Sudan’s main opposition party.

Sule was one of the champions of independence and fully supported a 2005 peace agreement that paved the way for South Sudan’s secession from the north on July 9.

But he refused to recognize Kiir’s landslide 93 percent victory in last year's elections and claimed that the numbers proved the ruling party had interfered with the poll.

Instability and corruption are considered two of the biggest challenges facing the world's newest nation, with the government still fighting numerous rebel groups within its borders.