Middle East

Dozens dead in border clashes between North, South Sudan

NAIROBI: A U.N. humanitarian report and aid workers caught in the crossfire reported an increase in violence in a new front near the already tense internal border between North and South Sudan Wednesday, with dozens of people reported killed in attacks.

Fighting broke out in Abyei, another hot-button border region that the Northern military invaded in May. A Southern military spokesman said Wednesday’s clash resulted in casualties but that he didn’t have exact figures.

The increased violence comes less than a month before South Sudan will declare independence from the North July 9, the culmination of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war.

The new violence prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to issue a new warning to Sudan’s leaders. He singled out the Khartoum government, saying it “must prevent a further escalation of this crisis by ceasing its military actions immediately, including aerial bombardments, forced displacements and campaigns of intimidation.”

Obama said that if Sudan’s leaders choose peace, the U.S. will take steps to normalize U.S.-Sudan relations, but that Khartoum will face more pressure and isolation if leaders there “flout their international obligations.”

MiG fighter jets made multiple bombing runs over the North-South border region of South Kordofan Tuesday, according to accounts from international officials in the region. A bomb exploded on an airstrip next to a U.N. compound in Kauda, a town in North Sudan whose residents strongly support the South.

A U.N. spokeswoman, Hua Jiang, said 11 bombs were dropped in South Kordofan, five of which exploded. Two people were slightly wounded after the airstrip bombing, she said.

Fighting was also heavy in the state capital, Kadugli, where violence broke out the first week of June.

“There have been some artillery shellings and small arms firing near Kadugli town and certainly the fighting since is moving closer to our headquarters in Kadugli,” she said.

South Kordofan is part of Northern Sudan, but many of the inhabitants there, the Nuba Mountain people, are black Africans who support the South against the Arab-dominated North.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR accused Sudan Tuesday of blocking aid deliveries in the region by air and road.

Jiang said Wednesday that a road was opened to the U.N. Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Abyei, troops from the North and South clashed. Casualties were reported after the clash near what Southerners call the Kiir River, but Southern spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said he didn’t immediately have an exact casualty toll.

Abyei – a fertile land near oil fields – is the major flashpoint. The situation spiraled out of control in May when the North invaded. Despite international calls for a withdrawal, Northern troops remain in the region.

Aguer said the Northern troops tried to cross the river Wednesday. The U.N. spokeswoman said there were conflicting reports indicating that either Northern or Southern troops tried to cross.

Even as the violence intensified, Northern and Southern officials continued to meet in Ethiopia in hopes of finding peace.

A Southern Sudanese minister said Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s troops should unconditionally withdraw from Abyei and allow an Ethiopian peacekeeping mission with a full mandate to defend themselves and civilians to move in.

Deng Alor Kuol, the minister for regional cooperation for Southern Sudan, said the African Union talks are focusing on empowering an Ethiopian peacekeeping mission for Abyei.

South Sudan wants a full mandate for the Ethiopians allowing them to take military action.

Border airstrikes may have killed 64: U.N.

KHARTOUM: Airstrikes on Sudan’s Southern Kordofan border state may have killed as many as 64 people and caused tens of thousands to flee, the United Nations said Wednesday.

“There is a growing sense of panic among some of the displaced populations who find themselves trapped by the ongoing violence and the ethnic fault lines,” the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report.

OCHA said about 60,000 people were estimated to have fled and more were believed to be hiding in the mountains. “Local sources in the state indicate that 64 people have been killed in aerial bombardments since fighting broke out,” it added.

A Northern military spokesman was not immediately available to comment. The army, saying it is fighting a rebellion, has blamed Southern-aligned fighters for provoking clashes and denied its actions are harming civilians.  

A cease-fire in South Kordofan seems far away. Deng said there are political issues to be addressed first with Abdul Aziz Al Hilu, the leading pro-southern political figure in South Kordofan, before any agreement that would be “effective” and accepted on the ground. 

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 16, 2011, on page 10.

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