KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese Arab militia attacked a village in Abyei killing five people, adding to north-south tensions in the disputed oil-producing area, the top official in the region said on Tuesday.
On Monday the U.N. Security Council held a closed session on Abyei, a major bone of contention which could reignite decades of north-south conflict in Africa’s largest country with reports of troops massing from both sides in the fertile area.
“It happened yesterday in the morning around 2 a.m. (11 GMT) in a village called Dungop,” Abyei Chief Administrator Deng Arop told Reuters.
“Their intention is just to depopulate the area, to terrorise the civilians so that they leave,” he said, accusing the Arab Missiriya tribe allied to the north of the attack.
Arop is from the pro-south Dinka Ngok tribe.
Hua Jiang, a spokeswoman from the U.N. peacekeeping mission confirmed the attack and casualties but could not say who the attackers were.
“Unknown armed men started shooting in the village and killed five people,” she said.
Abyei was due to vote on January 9 on whether to join the north or south. Southerners chose to secede from the north in a separate referendum this year but Abyei’s plebiscite stalled as the former north-south foes disagree on who ought to vote.
Deadly clashes centre in the south’s main oil areas between south Sudan’s army and militia have killed hundreds of people since the beginning of the year despite an amnesty called by the southern government for all armed rebels.
The clashes highlight a major challenge for south Sudan which will become an independent nation in July -- how to control a heavily armed population rife with ethnic and land tensions.
The former guerrilla Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has struggled to transform into a government and a rural security vacuum has exacerbated fighting.
On Tuesday Sudan’s north and south armies said they were disbanding joint units set up by a 2005 peace deal and deployed to major cities to patrol the truce ahead of the south’s impending independence.
“The operation has begun to withdraw all our forces in the joint units in the south - they are 20,000 troops,” al-Sawarmi Khaled, the northern army spokesman said, adding any southerners in the army who wanted to stay would be disarmed and receive their compensation in the south.
The southern army (SPLA) said they had already withdrawn their troops from the joint units and were returning south.
Joint troops would remain in the border states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile until their status was finalised, the SPLA said.