North-south clash in flashpoint Sudan oil state: UN

by Simon Martelli

6 June, 2011 (AFP)

Heavy shooting broke out on Monday in Kadugli, the capital of Sudan's volatile oil-producing border state of South Kordofan, amid soaring tensions ahead of southern independence, witnesses and the UN said.

"The fighting appears to be between elements from the SAF and SPLA," said Kouider Zerrouk, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Sudan (UNMIS), referring to the respective armies of north and south Sudan.

He added that the fighting had stopped, but gave no information on casualties.

Earlier, witnesses described the sound of heavy gunfire coming from different parts of Kadugli, including from the direction of the residence of Ahmed Harun, the state governor wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges who was re-elected in a disputed poll last month.

Tensions are escalating in South Kordofan, a former civil war battleground that is awash with weapons and has strong links to south Sudan, which is due to split with the north in just one month.

On Sunday, heavily armed SPLA troops attacked the northern army in Um Dorain, 35 kilometres (22 miles) southeast of Kadugli, killing one and wounding seven, SAF spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad said.

"The armed forces reserve the right to respond fully in the time and place of their choosing," he added.

Saad's claim, published by the Sudanese Media Centre, which is close to the security services, directly contradicted a statement he made on Sunday, downplaying what happened in Um Dorain as an "isolated incident" that had been brought under control.

The southern Sudan People's Liberation Army has denied involvement in any of the security incidents in South Kordofan over the weekend, saying they were caused by a rebellion against northern police by a group of Sudan Armed Forces troops who refused an order to disarm the SPLA.

Khartoum has ordered northern SPLA troops, thought to number around 40,000, to redeploy south of the 1956 borders before southern independence or face unspecified consequences.

Ten SAF tanks rolled into Kadugli on Sunday morning, sources in the city said, after unidentified gunmen attacked a Kadugli police station the previous night and made off with a stash of weapons.

The situation has been tense in Kadugli since Harun, a stalwart of the north's ruling National Congress Party, was last month re-elected governor of South Kordofan, north Sudan's only oil-producing state.

The election was mired in controversy, after his only rival, the former deputy governor Abdelaziz al-Hilu, a senior SPLA commander who also lives in Kadugli, pulled out of the race alleging fraud.

The UN mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which has a large presence in the volatile state, said on Monday that it was "deeply concerned" about the security situation in South Kordofan and in Abyei, where it reported persistent looting and artillery fire.

The bitterly contested Abyei district, which borders South Kordofan, was overrun by SAF troops last month, prompting at least 60,000 residents to flee, according to UN estimates.

UNMIS urged the northern army to immediately stop its artillery fire in the vicinity of the peacekeepers' compound, which it said posed "a security threat for the UN presence, patrols and flights in Abyei" and created high risks for civilians seeking to return.


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