More than 10 000 people displaced by fighting in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan were staying near a UN compound the country mission spokesman said, after nearly a week of clashes in the tense border state.
Fighting between government forces and armed groups erupted in the state capital of Kadugli and elsewhere after a police station was attacked on Saturday, adding to tensions as the country’s south prepares to secede in about a month.
Southern Kordofan, an oil-producing state which lies in northern territory, has long been seen as a flashpoint because it is home to thousands of fighters who fought alongside the south against Khartoum during the last civil war, Reuters reports.
In statements carried by the state news agency SUNA, Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said north Sudan’s armed forces were in control of Southern Kordofan on Thursday and were combing it for “remnants of the rebellion”.
Southern Kordofan is important to the north because it has the most productive oil fields that will remain under Khartoum’s control after the split. The south could take as much as 75 percent of Sudan’s 500,000 barrels per day of oil output.
It also borders the disputed Abyei territory and Darfur, a western region that is the scene of a separate insurgency.
Analysts have predicted fighting could break out in Southern Kordofan ahead of the split, especially after an official of the ruling northern party was named the winner in a gubernatorial election last month.
The south said the vote was rigged, which Khartoum denied.
Southern Sudan voted to secede in a January referendum, the culmination of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war between the north and south. The split is scheduled for July 9.
The number of people staying near the local U.N. Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) compound after fleeing the state capital of Kadugli and nearby villages had risen to an estimated 10,000 by Thursday, UNMIS spokesman Kouider Zerrouk said.
Clashes took place in Kadugli and other areas into Thursday, he added.
Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party had earlier accused southern-aligned armed groups in Southern Kordofan of fighting with the support of “foreign powers” and some domestic opposition.
“The armed forces will carry out their national duty and deal with all rebel forces,” the statement cited presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie as saying.
Officials with the south’s dominant party, the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement, have said the clashes started when the north tried to disarm armed groups in the area.
The northern army has blamed the southern-aligned groups for starting the fighting.
The militias are still referred to as members of the Southern Peoples’ Liberation Army — the southern military — although Juba says they are no longer part of their army and cannot ask them to withdraw south because they are northern.