Sudan: scores dead in clashes in south Darfur

CAIRO (AP) — Clashes in Darfur between Arab nomads and south Sudan's army along the country's volatile north-south border have left dozens dead and more wounded, Sudanese officials said Sunday.

The violence comes amid rising tensions between Arab nomads in the area and a growing contingent of soldiers from the neighboring southern province, officials said. The area is particularly tense as much of Sudan's north-south border has yet to be demarcated ahead of next year's crucial referendum when southerners will vote on whether to secede from the Arab dominated north.

Abdullah Massar, a presidential adviser from the Arab tribe involved in the clashes, said local tribal officials reported more than 50 Arab nomads were killed in the fighting with soldiers from the southern Sudan's People Liberation Army. The fighting began Thursday and was still going on Sunday, he said.

Massar blamed a group of southern army troops that he called a "militia." He said southern soldiers have been mobilizing along the border areas and venturing into south Darfur, harassing the local nomads from the Rezeigat tribe in the Balbala area.

"The soldiers attacked a local's house and a water well deep in southern Darfur," he said. "The number of people killed is huge. This is an army with modern weapons against nomads who graze their cattle in the area."

South Sudan military officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Arab nomads move along the border region to find fields for their livestock to graze on. Southern pastures are generally greener during the summer.

Massar said tension has been building up for the past two years as the southern army tries to impose its control over the area.

South Darfur deputy governor Farah Mustafa confirmed the clashes but said a committee in the area has yet to determine casualty figures. He said a meeting is scheduled Monday between tribal leaders to try to resolve the dispute.

"The problem is the area belongs to south Darfur," Mustafa said.

The referendum on southern secession is a key feature of the 2005 north-south peace deal that ended more than 20 years of civil war that left 2 million people dead, and many more displaced. The agreement also allowed the oil-rich south to maintain a separate army, the SPLA.

The violence comes as the country awaits final results from its first multiparty elections in 24 years, which were held earlier this month. The elections were also part of the landmark peace deal.

Sudanese officials said the clashes were unrelated to the elections, although violence in southern Sudan has been reported following the voting.

Sudan's northern army spokesman Sawarmy Khaled said the clashes were reported between the Rezeigat and soldiers from the SPLA along the border between south Darfur and the southern province of Western Bahr el-Ghazal. He denied northern army soldiers were present in the area.