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JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - Twelve people were killed and a government minister wounded in clashes in south Sudan, which is preparing for a referendum on whether to split off as an independent state.
A surge of ethnic violence has killed more than 2,000 people this year, the United Nations estimates, raising fears for the stability of the oil-producing territory which secured the referendum and a semi-autonomous government in a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war with the north.
The conflict, which also set southern tribe against southern tribe, left lingering resentments in a region already riven by traditional disputes over territory and cattle.
At least seven people were killed during an attack by fighters from the Mundari tribe on the rival Dinka Aliap group in Awerial county in Lakes state, officials said on Tuesday.
"There was an attack...all yesterday (Monday) night that continued to this morning," Lakes state Information Minister Agad Chol told Reuters, adding that it was probably in revenge for an earlier Dinka assault.
On Sunday, a vehicle carrying South Sudan's Agriculture Minister Samson Kwaje was ambushed just after he had given a speech encouraging people in neighbouring Central Equatoria State to take part in national elections, said officials.
The minister was shot and five people killed, the south's Internal Affairs Minister Gier Chuang Aloung told Reuters. Officials said the minister was flown to Nairobi for treatment.
Aloung said the attackers were from a group that wanted the state's Wonduruba area to remain part of Juba County.
"(They) got angered ... They strongly believe that Samson Kwaje is one of the leaders in the area who wants Wonduruba to be annexed to Lainya (county)," Aluong said. "It's a bad start ... This could impede the elections," he added.
The dispute over Wonduruba is only one of several running conflicts over land, boundaries and cattle in the south.
The peace deal promised national elections, set for April 2010, which will be Sudan's first multi-party poll in 24 years.
The south's main party and opposition groups have called for a nationwide two-week extension to register voters, accusing election officials of being ill-prepared for the vote.
Some southern politicians have blamed their old civil war foes in the north of arming militias in a bid to destabilise the region. Khartoum has dismissed the accusation, and commentators have suggested some southern leaders may also be using the violence to build up local support.
(Reporting by Skye Wheeler in Juba, editing by Andrew Heavens)

Reuters