JUBA, Sudan — The feuding Misseriya Arab and Ngok Dinka peoples of the disputed Sudan district of Abyei on Monday both reported heavy losses in clashes over the past three days totalling at least 33 dead.
"Thirteen Misseriya have been killed and 38 wounded since Friday," Misseriya tribal leader Hamid al-Ansari said.
Abyei's chief administrator Deng Arop Kuol said: "The total for these three days, we lost about 20 to 22 Dinka.
"They attacked us three times already and we are expecting them to attack again today."
UN peacekeepers have been sent to Abyei to investigate, UN Mission in Sudan spokesman Kouider Zerrouk said as Western governments expressed mounting concern about the potential for bloodshed there to derail implementation of the 2005 peace deal between north and south that ended 22 years of devastating war.
Tensions in the district on the north-south border have been rising with the launch of a landmark independence referendum in the south on Sunday.
Abyei had been due to hold a simultaneous plebiscite on its own future but it has been indefinitely postponed amid deadlock between northern and southern leaders over who should be eligible to take part in the vote on remaining part of the north or joining an autonomous or independent south.
The Misseriya, heavily armed nomads who migrate to Abyei each dry season to find water and pasture for their livestock, insist they should have the same right to vote as the Dinka, settled agriculturalists who live in the district all year and are sympathetic to the south.
Threats by the Dinka to take unilateral action over the plebiscite delay have sparked warnings of retaliation from the Misseriya.
"Security is not in place right now, because the Arabs are attacking us," said Kuol.
"We don't know whether it is the government, the militias or the Misseriya.
"It began on Friday, and continued on Saturday and Sunday," he said.
"The Misseriya have been seen by our people, and they're setting the stage for another attack."
South Kordofan state governor Ahmed Haroun visited the district on Sunday to try to calm tensions but Kuol said the visit had had no impact.
"I don't know what he agreed. He only wanted to know if the cows of the Misseriya will be allowed to drink in Abyei," Kuol said.
"He didn't speak to us because we were busy with these attacks."
In a joint statement on Sunday welcoming the first day of the southern referendum, Britain, Norway and the United States -- the three main Western brokers of the north-south peace process -- highlighted their "deep concerns" about the situation in Abyei.
"We commend the people of Abyei for their patience in recent months... and we emphasise again to both parties their responsibilities to urgently resolve the impasse," the three governments' top diplomats said.
Hollywood star George Clooney, who visited the district on Friday, said he felt like the "skunk in the room" amid the jubilation in the south over the independence vote for repeatedly voicing his concern about its potential to cause a major eruption of violence.
In Abyei "you have two tribes, the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka, inside fighting... If that sparks and one of these two troops (from the north or south) move in, breaking the CPA agreement (the 2005 peace deal), then you got yourself a north-south war," Clooney told AFP in an interview.
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