* At least 96,000 displaced by Abyei crisis
* Southern secession less than five weeks away
By Jeremy Clarke
JUBA, Sudan, June 7 (Reuters) - More than 1,500 people have died this year in violence across southern Sudan, the United Nations said, ahead of the region’s independence in July.
The underdeveloped region, roughly the size of France, has been beset by violence since southerners voted overwhelmingly in January to separate from the north and form their own nation.
The independence vote was the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war which killed about 2 million people. North and south Sudan have fought for all but a few years since 1955 over ethnicity, religion, ideology and oil.
The threat of renewed war grew last month when the north used tanks and troops to seize the contested Abyei region that straddles north and south, overshadowing political instability within south Sudan.
At least 96,000 people have fled the Abyei crisis, the United Nations top humanitarian official in the south, Lise Grande, said on Monday, compounding problems for the south’s government and humanitarian workers.
“Ninety-six thousand is the number of displaced we can account for, but with many fleeing into the bush the number may be even higher,” Grande said, adding the U.N. had raised the total number of displaced in the south to more than 200,000, roughly double an estimate made in April.
The number now in the region ahead of independence, coming voluntarily from the north and other countries, has topped 300,000 since October last year, the U.N. said.
Analysts warn that even if the fragile peace with the north holds, the south risks becoming a failed state if it cannot bring its humanitarian situation and rampant internal insecurity under control, with secession less than five weeks away.
Some 1,556 people have been killed in the south in the year to May 31, according to data released by the U.N.
This figure does not include the violence in Abyei — where officials estimate about 100 were killed in the current crisis — but are the result of 260 violent incidents affecting nine of the south’s 10 states, the U.N. figures show.
This violence includes tribes who have turned on each other, fighting over cattle. A booming youth population that needs cows to pay dowries has intensified the traditional conflict. Raids are common and machinegun fire exchanged.
At least seven rebel militia are at war with the government, the U.N. said.