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War of words after scores killed in Abyei

Map of Sudan

Fresh clashes between Sudan People’s Liberation Movement units and fighters from the Misseriya community in the oil-rich Abyei region have left scores dead and the two sides trading blame over who was responsible for the latest skirmishes.

At least 70 people were killed in the violence which occurred on 1 March in south Al-Mayram, aid workers in the Southern capital of Juba said.

The UN's Radio Miraya quoted the head of the Abyei Liberation Front, Mohammed Omer Al-Ansari, as saying the clashes were in retaliation for recent SPLM attacks. But the SPLM Secretary in Abyei, Chol Chan, instead accused the Sudanese government in Khartoum of arming the Misseriya.

A senior SPLM leader and minister for presidential affairs in the government of Southern Sudan, Luka Biong, said the attacks were carried out by a group he named as the Popular Defense Forces, supported by the Sudan Armed Forces. He called for investigations into the clashes.

The weekend battles were only the latest in a series of incidents that have raised tensions in Abyei. In December 2007 and January 2008, violent clashes between the SPLA and the Misseriya resulted in the deaths of at least 75 people.

In a report to the UN Security Council on 19 February, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, warned that Abyei, which lies between North and South Sudan, was a possible troublespot from which conflict could resume.

Abyei has experienced an administrative and political vacuum after disagreements over its status since a comprehensive agreement was signed to end the civil war three years ago.

The people of Abyei, Qazi said, had been denied the dividends of peace since the signing of the agreement and had been deprived of an administrative structure and basic services related to the provision of security, education, health and employment.

Analysts have warned that no area in Sudan is perhaps more volatile and carries more implications for the country's future than Abyei. According to the International Crisis Group, the risk of a return to war is rising because of the Abyei stalemate.

SPLM leaders say the North has ignored its proposals over Abyei because of oil revenues from the region - estimated at US$529 million in 2007. The government in Khartoum denies the claims.


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