KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The United Nations said it was sending more than 100 new peacekeepers to Sudan’s contested Abyei border region to help quell a surge in violence that has left dozens dead.
U.N. officials said they were also preparing to host peace talks in Abyei Friday to stop fighting that has raised fears for the stability of Sudan’s oil-producing south in the countdown to its independence in July.
Both north and south Sudan claim the central, fertile Abyei area and have clashed there, even after a 2005 peace deal officially ended decades of civil war.
Spokeswoman Hua Jiang said the U.N. had decided to send an extra company of peacekeepers to reinforce the four companies already stationed in Abyei, adding that a company comprised 100-130 soldiers.
Analysts say Abyei is one of the most likely places to see a return to north-south conflict. The U.N. Security Council on Thursday voiced its “deep concern” about the recent fighting and called for a political settlement.
South Sudan is due to secede on July 9 after 99 percent of its voters chose independence in a referendum in January — a vote promised under the 2005 accord.
Abyei’s residents were promised their own referendum on whether to join north or south. That plebiscite never took place after northern and southern leaders failed to appoint an organising commission or agree on who was qualified to vote.
North Sudan blamed the south for provoking several clashes between northern Arab Misseriya nomads and police in villages occupied by the south-linked Dinka Ngok people since Sunday.
Northern army spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khaled said the south had failed to pull out a force of armed southern police, breaking the terms of an earlier agreement, state media reported.
Abyei is supposed to be patrolled by joint north-south police and military units, as well as by U.N. peacekeepers.
Southern Dinka officials have accused Khartoum of sending soldiers and militias to fight alongside the Misseriya to attack villages and clear their populations from the area.
Tensions have been exacerbated by the onset of the migration season, when the Misseriya drive their livestock through Abyei into the south searching for pasture.
Jiang said the U.N. had called talks in Abyei between Dinka and Misseriya leaders, the northern governor of the surrounding Southern Kordofan state, Ahmed Haroun, and south Sudanese ministers.
“The aim is to try to stop the current violence in Abyei and to allow the migration to proceed,” she said.
Most of the women and children in Abyei town had now left and headed south, fearing more violence, Abyei Catholic priest Peter Sulliman told Reuters.
Reporting by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton