JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - South Sudanese police said on Monday they suspected a political motive in the murder of a member of parliament in the southern capital Juba, one month before the first multi-party polls in 24 years.
Zacariah Bol Deng, an independent candidate hoping to represent the south's main oil-producing Unity state in the south's semi-autonomous parliament, died after being shot last Thursday when at least three men broke into his house.
Police were still collecting information but said Sudan's April elections, a key part of Sudan's 2005 north-south peace deal and its first multi-party ballot for 24 years, may have played a role in the incident.
Asked if a political motive was suspected, police Colonel Michael Lasuba said: "Yes, because of the election -- maybe there is competition and you eliminate this one."
South Sudan's democratic credentials will be scrutinised during the elections as it may become Africa's newest state in 2011 when southerners choose whether to remain united with northern Sudan or to separate.
Police investigator Sebit Joseph Ater said the victim's brother believed the death was connected to Deng's campaign.
"Maybe there are people who paid for this," Ater said. He said Deng and his wife were sleeping under an open-walled thatch roof when the gunmen pulled them out of bed, threw her to the ground and shot the parliamentarian.
Deng, from Unity State, was a member of the ex-rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which dominates the south Sudan government, a party official said. But he was running on an independent ticket for the April ballot.
Some opposition and independent candidates in the south have complained of harassment and arrests by authorities, hampering their ability to campaign.
The SPLM ended more than two decades of north-south civil war with a 2005 peace deal with Khartoum. The conflict was fought over differing political and religious ideologies between the Islamic north and the south where most people are Christian or follow traditional beliefs.
(Reporting by Skye Wheeler, Editing by Opheera McDoom and Michael Roddy)