Northern Sudan has occupied a contested border region on Saturfay night after several days of haggling and fighting. Northern forces with tanks occupied the disputed town of Abyei on Saturday night, scattering southern troops that were there as part of a joint security unit, southern officials and a UN spokeswoman said. Khartoum-based state television cited unnamed military sources who said the army was in full control of the situation in Abyei.The northern action raised fears that a peace agreement between North and South might as yet be jeopardized.
South Sudan called the northern action an act of war. 'We didn't declare war,' southern army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer siad. 'The [ruling Sudanese] National Congress Party and the Sudan Armed Forces declared war on us.'Both north and south claim the fertile region, which lies near several important oil fields.Deadly fighting and recriminations have flared in Abyei since January, when the district was due to vote on its future, alongside a referendum in the south that delivered a landslide for secession. The plebiscite was postponed indefinitely as the north and south disagree on who should be eligible to vote.
Southern Sudan fought the north for more than two decades in a brutal war that claimed more than 2 million lives and forced more than 4 million people to flee their homes. A peace deal in 2005 offered the south the chance for independence and it overwhelmingly voted to secede in a January referendum. It is due to become the world's newest country in less than two months. But the Abyei violence threatens to further destabilize an already volatile region. Abyei's future is the most sensitive of a raft of issues that the two sides are struggling to reach agreement on before the south is recognised as an independent state in July.
Aid group Doctors Without Borders said in a statement the entire population of Abyei fled Saturday morning after the bombing raids, gunfights and mortaring. One mortar exploded in a UN compound but there were no casualties.
There were at least 15 northern tanks in Abyei, UN spokeswoman Hua Jiang said Saturday night.
The massive escalation in the most volatile spot along Sudan's contested north-south border came as the United Nations Security Council began a four-day visit to Sudan. The Council's scheduled visit to Abyei has been canceled because of the violence but they are due to make a public statement in Khartoum later on Sunday.
The US condemned the offensive on Saturday, saying Thursday's attack by southern forces on a UN was deplorable but the north's response "disproportionate and irresponsible."
"The actions being taken by the government of Sudan are blatant violations of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and threaten to undermine the mutual commitment of the CPA parties to avoid a return to war," the White House statement said.
The south is mainly animist and Christian and its people are linguistically and ethnically linked to sub-Saharan Africa. The north is overwhelmingly Muslim and many members of the government consider themselves Arabs. Most of Sudan's oil is in the south but the pipeline needed to export it runs through northern territory to a northern-held port.