Sudan’s army is ready to deal with an “armed rebellion” in the Southern Kordofan state, the northern ruling party said, raising the possibility of more violence in the border region as the country’s south prepares to secede.
Fighting erupted on Saturday in the north’s main oil state, seen as a flashpoint because it is home to thousands of fighters who fought alongside the south during the last civil war.
The clashes continued into Thursday in the state capital Kadugli and other locations, U.N. Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) spokesman Kouider Zerrouk said.
An estimated 7,000 people displaced from Kadugli and nearby villages were staying near a UNMIS compound as of Wednesday, he added.
In a statement on the state news agency SUNA, the north’s ruling National Congress Party 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.
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 Abyei 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 NCP official was named the winner of a gubernatorial election last month. The south said the vote was rigged, which Khartoum denied.
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.
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.