At least 36 people died in clashes between indigenous tribes and Arab nomads near Sudan's North-South border, leaders in the contested Abyei region said yesterday, on the second day of a vote on independence for the South of the country.
Abyei remains the most contentious sticking point between north and south following a two-decade civil war that left 2 million dead. Even President Barack Obama, who applauded this week's historic referendum on independence in the south, warned that violence in the Abyei region should cease.
United Nations spokesman Martin Nesirky said the organisation is "extremely concerned" about the reports of clashes and casualties in Abyei.
"The mission is in the process of confirming the numbers (of casualties), and containing the situation with enhanced patrols and engaging with the top leadership," Nesirky said at a regular news briefing at UN headquarters.
Abyei, which holds oil deposits, had been promised its own self-determination vote, but now whether it remains part of Sudan or joins an independent south will be decided in negotiations that so far have made little progress.
Jubilant voters flooded polling stations for a second day yesterday. The seven days of balloting are likely to produce an overwhelming vote for independence, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said he will let the oil-rich south secede peacefully.
Meanwhile, conflicting accounts emerged Monday concerning the latest violence in the region straddling the north-south divide, and both sides accused armed forces of being in Abyei in violation of the peace agreement that ended the 1983-2005 civil war.
Col. Philip Aguer, the spokesman for Southern Sudan's military, said Arabs from the Misseriya tribes and fighters from a former Khartoum-backed militia killed 20 police and wounded 30 more during an attack with anti-tank weapons and artillery in the village of Maker-Adhar on Sunday.
The Misseriya, a nomadic cattle-herding tribe, sometimes cross into Abyei with cattle. Aguer, though, said he believes the attack was planned. "They were not with cattle, they were coming for (an) attack," he said.
Bashtal Mohammed Salem, a tribal leader, meanwhile accused police of killing 10 herders in about the same general area. He also said that southern security forces have increased their presence in Abyei in violation of the agreement.
"They want to keep us out of the area and declare independence unilaterally," he said.
Aguer said the Misseriya were accompanied by uniformed men known as the Popular Defense Forces, a former militia that has been integrated into Sudan's military. There was no immediate comment from the Khartoum-based government on the allegations.
A UN official said the southern government has asked for help in evacuating the wounded police. The official was not allowed to be identified because the information hadn't been made public.
Meetings on Wednesday are to include the interior ministers of the south and north to regulate the presence of police in the area.
Abyei also saw some violence in the days before the independence referendum got under way, though officials from the north and south gave conflicting accounts of the casualties and the locations of the fighting.Reuse content