JUBA, Sudan – At least 10 people died when a militia attacked a police post in a disputed area of Sudan, a southern government official said Monday.
Deng Arop Kuol, the top government official in the disputed border region of Abyei, alleged the attackers were supported by the northern Sudanese government. Tribesman involved in the attack said the southern government provoked the attack.
The violence underscores the volatility between Sudan's north and south ahead of the south's independence in July. The two sides fought for more than two decades and the civil war claimed around 2 million lives before it ended in 2005.
Seven police officers and three attackers from the nomadic Misseriya tribe were killed in Sunday's attack, and fighting continued on Monday, Kuol said. The fertile area is claimed by both north and south Sudan and is near several large oil fields.
Kuol said the Misseriya fighters were using jeeps that belonged to the northern Sudanese Armed Forces when they attacked a police post at Todach.
"They used mounted jeeps which our police identified as the ones used by the Sudanese Armed Forces," said Kuol. "We conclude (from this) that SAF participated actively in the attack."
Kuol told the AP by phone from Abyei that he did not yet have the death tolls from Monday's fighting near the town of Todach, but said that "it was more deadly than yesterday and both sides incurred losses."
Saddig Babo Nimr, a senior Misseriya leader, gave a different account of Sunday's fighting. He blamed the southern government for the violence, saying southerners instigated an attack against a camp of the nomadic cattle herders. He put the death toll at 15.
Last month Southern Sudan overwhelmingly voted for secession from northern Sudan in a peaceful referendum. It is due to become independent in July but some southerners fear the northern government could use the unresolved status of Abyei as an excuse to send proxy militias to attack the south.
Such militias have long been a feature of conflict in Sudan, and ruling parties in north and south Sudan have both armed each other's rivals to bolster their claims to Abyei. Misseriya tribesmen fear that if Abyei is ruled by the south, they will not be able to use its grazing land for their flocks.
Col. Philip Aguer, spokesman for the southern army, said he had heard that a Misseriya group had attacked the police post in Todach on Sunday and again on Monday morning, but did not have details. He said there are no southern soldiers deployed in Abyei, and said that only a unit called the joint police force, made up of both northern and southern Sudanese, is involved in the Abyei fighting.
The Associated Press could not reach any senior United Nations officials for comment on the situation. The U.N.'s billion-dollar-per-year peacekeeping mission has a base in Abyei, but those peacekeepers were unable to 2008 contain clashes that razed the town and sent more than 60,000 residents fleeing south.
In January, violence between the Misseriya and pro-southern police left more than 60 people dead just before voting began in the south's independence referendum. Following the clashes, tribal leaders agreed to allow Misseriya herders to migrate through the Abyei area and the Misseriya agreed to pay compensation for killings of residents during last year's migration. Northern and southern leaders also signed a separate accord to increase security in the Abyei territory.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and southern leader Salva Kiir pledged in late January to reach an agreement on the future status of Abyei by the end of March, but negotiations have not moved ahead since the two presidents met last month.
Northern and southern leaders are meeting this week in the Ethiopian town of Debre Zeit for negotiations on a number of critical topics related to the south's secession, including future arrangements for transporting the landlocked south's considerable oil reserves and division of the country's national debts and assets.