54 killed in clashes in area claimed by Sudan, S.Sudan

People run past a military vehicle in Khartoum on April 15, 2023, amid reported clashes in the city. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • The clashes in Abyei, a contested oil-rich territory straddling the border of both countries, broke out at the weekend, according to local authorities. 

Fighting between rival communities in a disputed region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan has killed 54 people, including two UN peacekeepers, the United Nations said on Monday, calling for calm.

The clashes in Abyei, a contested oil-rich territory straddling the border of both countries, broke out at the weekend, according to local authorities. 

The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) said it "strongly condemns these attacks against civilians and peacekeepers".

"Currently, according to local authorities, 52 civilians have lost their lives, while 64 others are said to be gravely wounded," it said.

It said peacekeepers came under fire on Sunday "while transporting affected civilians from a UNISFA base to a hospital".

A Pakistani peacekeeper was killed, and "four uniformed personnel and one local civilian sustained injury", it said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the violence and appealed to the governments of both sides to investigate so those responsible could be brought to justice, said his spokesman Stephane Dujarric, with attacks on peacekeepers potentially constituting a war crime.

A Ghanaian peacekeeper had been killed on Saturday, UNISFA added, calling for an investigation into the violence.

Located between Sudan and South Sudan, Abyei has been a flashpoint since the South gained independence in 2011.

According to authorities in the Abyei Special Administrative Area, armed youths and a local rebel militia carried out a series of "barbaric coordinated attacks", starting on Saturday morning.

- Fragile region -
Rou Manyiel Rou, secretary general for the Abyei Special Administrative Area, said on Saturday that the violence was tied to a long-running "conflict between (the) Ngok and Twic" communities.

In a statement published on Monday, Britain, Norway and the United States, the international "Troika" that sponsored South Sudan's independence, said they were "deeply concerned by the escalation of violence in recent months between communities living in and around" Abyei.

"All leaders who have influence with involved communities and who fail to use it to support peace are demonstrating their disregard for the interests of their people," the Troika said.

The attacks follow clashes in November last year that killed 32 people, including a UN peacekeeper.

A regional UN envoy expressed concern in November that fighting within Sudan was drawing closer to the country's border with South Sudan and Abyei.

Hanna Tetteh, the UN special envoy for the Horn of Africa, said Abyei's proximity to the fighting between Sudan's rival forces threatened to destabilise the already fragile region and its sometimes volatile local dynamics.

She said the Sudan crisis had also "effectively put on hold" talks between leaders from both countries over Abyei's long-disputed status.

The 12-year-old UN peacekeeping mission in Abyei currently comprises some 4,000 military and police personnel.