A battle between Northern Sudan and Southern Sudan over the oil rich Abyei region has entered its fourth day. Scores of people have been killed and women and children have fled the violence after two Dinka villages of Maker and Wungok, north of Abyei town, were burned to the ground and completely destroyed. There are fears that other attacks are pending.
The fighting broke between the people of northern-supporting Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka people, who back the south ahead of preparations for the country to divide into Northern Sudan and Southern Sudan under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war between both regions.
Estimates of the death count have varied widely. Abyei’s joint Dinka-Misseriya administration said at least 10 people died Sunday and six Wednesday. But SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer told reporters that more than 70 may have died since the start of the week.
Despite an overwhelming vote to secede, north and south Sudan remain at loggerheads over who should be in charge of Abyei, a fertile, oil-producing border area used both by northern Arab Misseriya nomads and the south-linked Dinka Ngok people.
“In the early hours of the morning (on Thursday) 300 women and children left, moving further south. On Wednesday we witnessed the burial of 33 bodies,” a U.N. diplomatic source told the Associated Press. The same source said that some of the bodies wore police uniforms and all were southerners.
The United Nations and elements of the international community that helped broker the accord have urged Sudan’s leaders to settle the Abyei crisis and avoid a return to civil war.
On Thursday, the UN Security Council held a closed-door meeting to discuss the issue after which U.N. spokesperson, Hua Jiang, told reporters that the international organization is preparing to send more peacekeepers to the disputed region. “The aim is to try to stop the current violence in Abyei and to allow the migration to proceed,” she is quoted as saying by Reuters.
March President of the Security Council, China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong expressed “deep concern” at the fighting in Abyei. He said Li said the Security Council saw an “urgent need for a political agreement” on Abyei.
Experts say the conflicts have been intensified by the onset of the migration season, when the Misseriya drive their livestock through Abyei, into the south searching for pasture.
Both regions blame each other for provoking the conflict. According to reports, Dinka officials in Abyei claim Misseriya fighters, backed by Khartoum-supported militias, attacked a police station in the village of Todach on Sunday and Monday, then moved on to the village of Maker on Wednesday. While Misseriya officials accused south Sudan’s SPLA army of starting the fighting by attacking a nomadic camp.
The clashes between gunmen from the northern-supporting Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka people, who back the south enters its fourth day.