(AFP) – Jun 17, 2011
KHARTOUM — The army of north Sudan shelled a town just south of the flashpoint Abyei border region on Friday, the United Nations said, with tensions rising along the frontier just weeks before southern independence.
The UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan, or UNMIS, confirmed the Sudanese Armed Forces had shelled the southern border town of Agok, where tens of thousands of people fled to after northern troops overran Abyei last month.
"Six shells fired by the SAF hit Agok, 150 metres from the UNMIS compound," Kouider Zerrouk, a spokesman for the mission, told AFP.
"The SAF is claiming the shelling was part of an exercise, while the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army of the south) says the shelling was targeting their positions and intimidating the local population," he added.
The SPLA said the northern army attempted an incursion into south Sudan on Friday but had been repelled.
"This morning we received a report that the SAF were trying to move southwards into Warrap state," in south Sudan, SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP.
"There was fighting between Abyei and Agok (45 kilometres south)... But our forces repelled them and drove them back towards Abyei," he said, adding that the northern army had deployed all along the north-south border.
The SAF spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
The northern army occupied Abyei on May 21, in response to an attack on a convoy of SAF troops and UN peacekeepers, in which at least 22 northern troops were killed and which was blamed on the south.
The occupation prompted around 113,000 people, mostly pro-southern Dinka Ngok farmers, to flee to the south, according to the latest UN estimates.
On Wednesday, clashes between the northern and southern armies reportedly broke out near the Kiir, or Bahr al-Arab river, which runs through the bitterly contested border region.
Aguer said five SAF soldiers had been killed and seven SPLA troops wounded in the fighting then, but the SAF spokesman earlier denied the northern army's involvement in any clashes with southern troops.
"The SPLA has to find out who is fighting them south of the Bahr al-Arab," Sawarmi Khaled Saad told reporters.
Abyei is the most sensitive and intractable of a raft of issues that the two future states are struggling to resolve ahead of the south's formal declaration of independence from the north on July 9.
Very little progress appears to have been made on these issues, despite Sudan's two presidents agreeing "in principle" earlier this week to withdraw Sudanese troops from Abyei and deploy Ethiopian peacekeepers.
The renewed violence in Abyei, and in nearby South Kordofan, threatens to poison north-south relations ahead of south Sudan's full international recognition next month.
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