A senior member of south Sudan’s main party called for a ceasefire in the border state of Southern Kordofan, a potential flashpoint in the build-up to the secession of the south in July.
Clashes broke out between north Sudan’s army and armed groups, who see themselves as aligned with the south, in the state capital Kadugli over the weekend, said UN and local officials.
The oil-producing state in is north Sudan but borders both the south and the strife-torn Darfur region, the scene of a separate insurgency, Reuters reports.
Southern Kordofan is home to many fighters who sided with the south against the north during decades of civil war and fear being isolated after the south declares independence.
The fighting started after northern forces attempted to disarm some of the armed groups, said Yasir Arman from the south’s dominant Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM).
“We call for an immediate ceasefire, and to start dialogue immediately,” Arman, who heads the SPLM’s northern wing, told Reuters.
“The leadership of the SPLM north is ever-ready to sit with the (ruling northern) National Congress Party to get a solution that will bring permanent peace … Disarming the SPLA north, if it continues, will bring a big crisis,” he added.
The fighters in Southern Kordofan are still referred to as members of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) — the southern military — although south Sudan says they are no longer part of its army.
A spokesman for the northern army was not immediately available to comment, but the northern military has previously said the situation in Southern Kordofan was stable and blamed southern-allied forces for starting any fighting in the area.
One witness said troops from the SPLA and from the northern army were also fighting in the town of Abu Jebiha in Southern Kordofan.
Southern Kordofan has the most productive oilfields that will be left in the north after the split, which could see Khartoum lose up to 75 percent of Sudan’s 500,000 barrels per day of oil output.
Southerners voted to declare independence in a January referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended their last civil war with the north — a conflict fought over ideology, ethnicity, religion and oil.
North and south Sudan have not yet agreed on a list of issues ahead of the split, including how to share oil revenues and the exact position of the shared border.
The fate of the disputed Abyei region, which also borders Southern Kordofan, has been especially contentious. Khartoum seized Abyei with tanks and troops on May 21, following an attack on northern soldiers and U.N. peacekeepers blamed on southern forces.
Tens of thousands of people fled south to escape looting and fighting. The north has since refused calls from the United Nations, United States and southern officials to withdraw, saying Abyei is northern land.
U.N. human rights investigator Mohamed Chande Othman on Wednesday called on Sudan’s government to abide by the U.N. Security Council’s call to withdraw from Abyei.
“I received allegations of killings, rape and other forms of inhumane and degrading treatment during and subsequent to the attack,” he told reporters in Khartoum.
He urged the northern government to give the United Nations mission in Sudan unqualified access to Abyei’s main town and to investigate the charges.