- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

JUBA, Sudan (AP) — Almost 200 northern Sudanese troops were killed or are missing after an attack last week by southern Sudanese forces near the disputed region of Abyei, Sudan‘s ambassador to Kenya said Tuesday.

The southern military, meanwhile, reported that northern troops remain north of a river seen as the dividing line between north and south, but said their crossing over would constitute a violation that the south “cannot tolerate.”

The clashes in Abyei began Thursday when, according to the United Nations, southern troops attacked a column of northern and U.N. troops moving away from Abyei. The United Nations condemned the south’s attack. A U.N. spokeswoman, Hua Jiang, said Tuesday that no U.N. troops were killed.

Abyei lies near the line that divides north from south. The south voted to secede from Africa’s largest country this year and is scheduled to become the world’s newest nation in July.

Kamal Ismail Saeed, Sudan‘s ambassador to Kenya, told a news conference that 197 northern troops were killed or missing after the southern attack. A more detailed statement said 70 troops were killed and more than 120 others missing.

Mr. Saeed said the attack caused the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, to respond. Northern troops have moved south through Abyei, sending thousands of civilians fleeing.

“I think that was a serious blow which ended the continuous patience and self-restraint of SAF, so it responded in self-defense,” Mr. Saeed said.

The south voted in January to secede from the north in a referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war. The current flare-up is threatening to restart a wider war.

Jason Straziuso reported from Nairobi, Kenya.