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Northern Sudan seizure 'act of war'

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UN officials have seen 15 tanks belonging to Northern Sudan's army in parts of the contested town of Abyei

UN officials have seen 15 tanks belonging to Northern Sudan's army in parts of the contested town of Abyei

UN officials have seen 15 tanks belonging to Northern Sudan's army in parts of the contested town of Abyei

Northern Sudan's seizure of a contested border region is an act of war, a spokesman for the Southern Sudanese army has said, raising fears that fighting over the town could reignite the civil war between north and south.

Northern forces with tanks occupied the disputed town of Abyei on Saturday night, scattering southern troops that were there as part of a joint security unit, said Southern officials and a UN spokeswoman.

Both north and south claim the fertile region, which lies near several important oil fields. Hollywood actor George Clooney set up a project to monitor the area by satellite, fearing it could be a flashpoint that could draw the region back into civil war.

The north's seizure of the town follows several days of fighting and bombing and drew immediate condemnation from the US government.

"We didn't declare war," said southern army spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer. "The (Sudanese ruling party) National Congress Party and the Sudan Armed Forces declared war on us."

Southern Sudan fought the north for more than two decades in a brutal war that claimed more than two million lives. A peace deal in 2005 offered the south the chance for independence and it overwhelmingly voted to secede in a January referendum. It is due to become the world's newest country in less than two months but the Abyei violence threatens to further destabilise an already volatile region.

Col Aguer said southern troops stationed in Abyei were overrun and scattered after the north conducted two days of aerial bombardments, focusing on a bridge where southern reinforcements would have entered.

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The southern army "will maintain the status quo", he said, while it waits for the decision of the southern government on how best to respond.

Col Aguer called for the United Nations Mission in Sudan "to protect the people of Abyei", saying that the northern government intends to "displace civilians and commit human rights violations as they did in Darfur". Several members of the Abyei government are missing, he said.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders said in a statement the entire population of Abyei fled on Saturday morning after the bombing raids, gunfights and mortaring. One mortar exploded in a UN compound but there were no casualties. There were at least 15 northern tanks in Abyei, UN spokeswoman Hua Jiang said.


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