Former rebels in southern Sudan are playing down the importance of a skirmish on Thursday between their members and government soldiers. As Derek Kilner reports for VOA's East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, tensions between the two sides have been high since the former rebels withdrew their ministers from a power-sharing national government on October 11.

Members of the Sudan People's Liberation Army clashed with government soldiers in the Sudanese state of Bahr el-Ghazal on Thursday. But Pagan Amum, secretary-general of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement - the group's political wing - says that the fighting was a minor incident that is not likely to have a lasting impact.

"That is a small skirmish that happened in Northern Bahr al Ghazal where two small units had a clash because of disagreements on deployment. The situation is already contained," he said.

Amum says that the focus should remain on the political crisis between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement - known by the acronym SPLM - and the National Congress Party - the Northern partner in the national government. The SPLM accuses Khartoum of failing to implement key aspects of the 2005 peace agreement, known as the CPA, including withdrawing northern soldiers from the south, and accepting a commission's ruling on the borders of the disputed Abyei region.

Amum says his group is still waiting for a response from the National Congress Party.

"We are awaiting reaction from them and we are hopeful that they will react positively to implement those critical aspects of the CPA to which they have already committed themselves," he said.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed concern about the status of the peace agreement. Speaking before a U.S. congressional committee on foreign affairs, Rice said she was disappointed with Sudanese government's behavior and she reiterated the Bush administration's support for the peace deal.

Analysts have expressed concern that the current crisis could lead to a breakdown in security agreements between the SPLM and national government.

According to reports from Khartoum, the president of the semi-autonomous Southern region, Salva Kiir, met on Thursday with Sudan's defense minister in Khartoum, reaffirming that there has been no military escalation between the two sides.

The 2005 agreement established a power-sharing interim national government between the SPLM and the National Congress Party and a semi-autonomous government of South Sudan. The deal also calls for national elections in 2009 and a referendum on the south's secession in 2011.