June 5, 2011 / 12:30 PM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 3-Clashes reported in Sudan flashpoint state

* North has threatened to clear out southern-allied forces

* South says South Kordofan militia are northerners

(Adds southern ruling party statement)

By Jeremy Clarke and Alex Dziadosz

JUBA/KHARTOUM, June 5 (Reuters) - Clashes have broken out in a flashpoint region of Sudan controlled by the northern government, exacerbating tensions as the southern portion of the vast country prepares to secede following a referendum.

Two southern party officials and the United Nations reported fighting at the weekend in the Nuba region of South Kordofan, an area in northern territory that the Khartoum authorities have threatened to clear of southern-allied armed groups.

Tensions have been mounting between north and south Sudan ahead of the scheduled July 9 division of the country, with unresolved issues including the exact position of the common border and the fate of the disputed Abyei region.

Last month the Khartoum government seized the area, used by the south-linked Dinka Ngok people and northern Arab Misseriya nomads, causing tens of thousands of people to flee and drawing sharp international criticism.

On Sunday, U.N. spokeswoman Hua Jiang said military observers were sent to investigate reported shooting in Umm Dorain village in South Kordofan, an area holding most of what will remain of the north’s oil after the south splits away.

Unknown armed groups also attacked a police station in Kadugli late on Saturday, taking some weapons before leaving, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in Sudan said.

“NCP (National Congress Party) attacked this morning in Umm Dorain and yesterday night in Kadugli, but it is quiet now,” an official with the southern ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), told Reuters.

The National Congress Party is the ruling party of the Khartoum government.

In a statement emailed to Reuters, the SPLM said Khartoum had sent tanks into Kadugli and moved them towards Umm Dorain.

The region has been tense since Sudan declared the northern ruling party’s Ahmed Haroun the winner of a gubernatorial race last month. The south said the vote was rigged, a charge the north denied. [ID:nLDE74E0E0]

Haroun is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes in the western Darfur region.

POTENTIAL FOR CONFLICT

A northern army spokesman quoted by the state news agency SUNA said the Umm Dorain incident was caused by a soldier firing at random. Kadugli was calm and relations between Sudan’s armed forces and “the other party” in the Nuba region were stable.

Analysts have said fighting could erupt in parts of north-run South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, which are home to southern-allied armed groups that fought Khartoum during the civil war. Southern officials say the South Kordofan militia are northerners and so Juba cannot tell them to withdraw south.

Southerners voted overwhelmingly to secede in a January referendum promised by a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended decades of civil war.

“The SPLM is still respecting the CPA and the international community, but if they attack again, no one will accept that, and we will be defending ourselves,” the party official said.

Khartoum has refused calls from the United States, the United Nations and southern officials to withdraw from Abyei, saying the land belongs to the north and its troops will remain until the dispute is resolved. (Additional reporting by Khaled Abdelaziz; Writing by Alex Dziadosz; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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