South Sudan's President demands North withdraw from disputed region

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir called on North Sudan to withdraw its forces from the disputed Abyei region yesterday, but said there would be no war over the incursion and it would not derail independence.

North Sudanese armed forces seized control of the oil-producing Abyei region on Saturday, forcing tens of thousands to flee and prompting an international outcry seven weeks before South Sudan secedes to form a new nation.

"We will not go back to war, it will not happen," Mr Kiir told reporters in Juba, the capital of South Sudan which is due to become independent on 9 July.

Abyei was a key battleground in Sudan's last North-South civil war and both sides see it as having symbolic importance. The region is home all year round to the Dinka Ngok people, who have strong ethnic links to the South, and for part of the year to Northern Misseriya nomads.

Southerners voted for secession in a January referendum, a vote that was promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended the last conflict.

Analysts fear that a North Sudanese land grab could spark a return to full-blown conflict, a development that would have a devastating impact on the region by sending refugees back across borders and creating a failed state in the South at birth.