Armed youth from rival factions of the Dinka ethnic group have been battling over the location of an administrative boundary in the oil-rich region, claimed by both countries, according to media reports.
The UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) reported that clashes erupted on Saturday in the Nyinkuac, Majbong and Khadian areas, leading to casualties and the evacuation of civilians to its bases.
Refuge from violence
UNISFA is engaging with local authorities to verify the numbers of those killed, injured, and displaced, noting that 52 civilians have lost their lives while 64 others are said to be gravely wounded.
The Mission has allowed all persons in imminent threat of danger to seek refuge in some of its camps, in line with its mandate to protect civilians.
Peacekeepers under attack
On Sunday, peacekeepers were transporting affected civilians from a UNISFA base to a hospital when they came under heavy fire. A peacekeeper from Pakistan was killed, and four uniformed personnel and a local civilian were injured.
The incident happened one day after the UNISFA base in Agok came under attack, which the mission repelled. A Ghanaian peacekeeper was killed, prompting the Mission to call for “a swift and thorough investigation”.
UNIFSA issued a statement on Monday strongly condemning the attacks against civilians and peacekeepers, stating that violence against “blue helmets” may constitute a war crime under international law.
Call for investigation
“The Mission is making every effort to restore calm, including proactively and robustly protecting civilians, and reiterates its call for a swift investigation so that perpetrators can be held accountable,” according to a statement.
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UN Secretary-General António Guterres is deeply concerned about the violence that occurred in Abyei over the weekend, his Spokesperson said in a statement later on Monday.
“The Secretary-General condemns the violence and attacks against UNISFA and calls on the Governments of South Sudan and Sudan to swiftly investigate the attacks, with the assistance of UNISFA, and bring the perpetrators to justice,” it said.
Mr. Guterres conveyed his deepest condolences to the Government and people of Ghana and Pakistan, and to the families of the deceased civilians.
UN in Abyei
UNISFA was established by the UN Security Council in June 2011 in response to renewed violence, escalating tensions and population displacement in the Abyei region as Southern Sudan was preparing to formally declare independence from Sudan the following month.
The weeks prior to the Council decision were marked by deadly clashes that forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes.
The war between rival military forces in Sudan has compounded the challenges in Abyei, according to senior UN officials who briefed the Council last November.
They said the conflict has interrupted encouraging signs of dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan and talks over the disputed region have effectively been put on hold.