Militia fighters attacked a village in Sudan’s tense Abyei border region, killing five people in the second assault in the area in less than a month says the territory’s chief administrator.
Tensions are mounting in Abyei ahead of a referendum due in January 2011 on whether the territory should join south Sudan. The vote has regional significance because, on the same day, the people of south Sudan have been promised a ballot on whether to separate from the north to become an independent state.
Abyei, which is close to key oil fields and includes rich pasture land, is used by two main groups, the Dinka Ngok, linked to south Sudan’s Dinka people, and nomadic Misseriya Arabs, associated with the north. Some Misseriya leaders fear they would lose their grazing grounds if Abyei moved to the south.
Abyei chief administrator of Deng Arop Kuol said members of a Misseriya militia attacked the village of Tajalei north of Abyei town on Monday morning and killed four civilians and a police officer before fleeing. “It is politically motivated. They are trying to disrupt the referendum activities, particularly the voter registration,” he said.
Both south Sudan’s independence referendum and the Abyei vote were promised in the 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.
Kuol reported Misseriya tribesmen attacked the village of Maker, also north of Abyei town, in mid-June. That attack was confirmed by the United Nations although no one was immediately available from the global organisation to confirm Monday’s assault.
Northern and southern soldiers clashed in Abyei town in May 2008 and analysts fear the territory could be a flashpoint of trouble after the votes.
Northern and southern leaders have still not agreed on the members of a commission to organise the Abyei vote and one senior southern official told Reuters last month they may have to call in the United Nations to run it.