JUBA, South Sudan (AP) -- At least 11 Sudanese traders were killed earlier this week by unknown gunmen as they crossed into South Sudanese territory, a military official said Friday, blaming the attack on militiamen who want to shatter the prevailing peace between the two Sudans.
South Sudan military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said "gangsters" ambushed three trucks at a trading center near the border town of Renk on Wednesday morning. He said the bodies were later discovered by another group of traveling traders. He said the South Sudanese military then dispatched a contingent of soldiers to chase after the militiamen.
"After a while the SPLA caught up with these gangsters and they exchanged fire," he said.
He said the militiamen ran toward Sudanese territory.
The incident happened nearly two weeks after South Sudan and Sudan agreed to open 10 crossing points along their border to boost the movement of goods and people between the two countries.
Aguer blamed the attack on militiamen operating inside Sudan who don't want peace to prevail between the Sudans, which have had moments of border tension since the south declared independence in 2011.
"We suspect these are people who penetrated the areas ... from the Republic of Sudan," he said. "These are definitely enemies of peace that do not want the harmony prevailing at the borders. We conveyed our condolences to the families of the traders that are victims of this barbaric act."
Despite sporadic incidents of violence, the two countries have seen a thaw in relations in recent times. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said on a visit to South Sudan last month that he wants to normalize relations with the south.
The two governments have since reached a deal on South Sudanese oil exports passing through Sudanese facilities.