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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 1°C
Abd Raouf/AP/Press Association Images A UN Security Council delegation is in southern Sudan to assess threats in the border region of Abyei

Southern Sudan appeals for help as UN officials demand "immediate withdrawal" from disputed border town.

Northern occupation of the town of Abyei threatens to re-ignite Sudan’s civil war. The oil-rich area is strongly contested and there are fears of escalating violence.

OFFICIALS IN SOUTHERN Sudan are appealing for international help after what’s been described as an “act of war” following northern Sudan’s seizure of a disputed border region.

The UN has demanded an immediate end to military action and withdrawal from the town of Abyei, however the UN Security Council has stopped short of promising specific action to dislodge northern soldiers from what’s been described as a “flash point”, which threatens to re-ignite the country’s civil war.

The UN issued a statement yesterday saying that the operation by northern forces “threatens to undermine the mutual commitment of thr parties to avoid a return to war”.

Northern tanks rolled into Abyei on Saturday night, scattering southern troops who were there as part of a joint security unit. The UN compound was also hit with mortar fire and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has confirmed that two UN peacekeepers were wounded, while Doctors Without Borders has said that 42 wounded people were brought to its hospital 42 km south of Abyei. The aid organisation also says that by Sunday morning nearly the entire population of Abyei had fled and the town was almost empty.

The seizure of Abyei followed an attack on a convoy of northern soldiers by southern forces on Thursday and two days of aerial bombardment of the area by the north. The escalation in violence comes less than two months before south Sudan, which is predominantly ethnic African, is due to become the world’s newest country on 9 July after voting overwhelmingly to secede from the Arab-dominated north. The north and south fought a civil war for more than two decades before a 2005 peace deal offered the south the chance for independence.

Abyei was due to have a referendum as part of the peace deal to decide whether it would remain part of the north or south, but it was cancelled amid disagreements over who was eligible to vote.

Disputed border town

South Sudan’s information minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin has said that the north’s occupation of Abyei is illegal, and that the UN must make sure the troops withdraw. The northern army is accusing the south of violating the peace agreement and said that the occupation of the area will continue until an accord can be reached which will guarantee security and stability in the region.

Both north and south claim Abyei, a fertile region near several large oil fields, and its disputed status has long been recognised as a potential trigger for violence.

The UN is blaming both sides for the violence, saying that the south had attacked the convoy of northern soldiers and the north had escalated the confrontation by occupying Abyei.

Ban Ki-moon is calling for an immediate halt to military operations and urged both sides to “desist from further acts of antagonism” and uphold their previous commitments to maintain peace and security in the area.

- Additional reporting by AP